Saturday, March 07, 2009

Book Review: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Book: The White Darkness
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Published: 2007

Symone Wates is in love with an older man. A lot older. Like 90 years. Ever since her father's death, she's had a passion for the romantic, tragic figure of Titus Oates. She knows everything about his wanderings in the Army and his participation in Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. She even has entire conversations with Titus in her head. She's gobbled up every scrap of information about Antarctica that she possibly can, knowing it's the closest she'll ever get to him.

Then her uncle sweeps her away on a whirlwind expedition to Antarctica itself. But this is no ordinary vacation. Uncle Victor is convinced that the path into the hollow earth lies at the South Pole, and he'll stop at nothing to get them there.

Symone might be meeting the real Titus sooner than she thinks . . .

This book was the Printz award winner for 2008, and was a bit of a dark horse as far as I was concerned. (Me: "The White Wha?") I've read Geraldine McCaughrean before, and she's honestly sort of hit or miss. She scored a hit with this one, a very palpable one.

It's a hard trick to create a character that you accept in all their oddity and at the same time want to shake awake, but McCaughrean pulls it off. You know of Symone's imaginary relationship with Oates from page one, and there's something off about Uncle Victor right from his introduction. While Symone knows the Oates thing is weird, (and she's okay with that, which is probably at least some of her charm) she takes considerably longer to catch on in the case of Victor. This could have led to the fifty-page execution order if it weren't for Symone's self-deprecating narration, which is soaked in all the passion that a fourteen-year-old is capable of--passion for a romantic ideal and for a place. I was honestly surprised to read that McCaughrean had never been to Antarctica, because the way she describes it, you can almost feel the frostbite getting at your fingers.

When you get right down to it, this is a story of obsession and its accompanying blindness. Symone, Uncle Victor, and even the doomed 1912 expedition all suffer from obsessions that cloud their understanding of the world around them. Symone just happens to be the lucky one who survived hers.


Lenore Appelhans said...

Never heard of this before. But it sounds awesome. Adding to wish list now!

Sadako said...

Sounds awesomely creepy. And I love things with a cold backdrop and obsession themes...kind of reminds me of the book No Night Is Too Long.