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The White Darkness Paperback – December 30, 2008
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“Readers will find this a triply compelling tale: for its slow revelation of a deranged soul; for its young narrator, who turns out to be tougher than she or anyone else supposes; and for its wildly hostile setting, which quickly turns the secret expedition into a frantic struggle to survive.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“What makes the book truly stand out is Sym’s unique personality... and, through it all, McCaughreen’s inspired wordplay and powerful imagery.” (The Horn Book)
“...the ratcheting terror, thrilling double-crosses and gorgeously articulated star character -- Antarctica itself -- combine for a girl’s adventure yarn of the first order.” (Publishers Weekly)
“This is an amazing work...there is no question that McCaughrean is a fine writer.” (KLIATT)
From the Back Cover
I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now—which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and the age difference won't matter.
Sym is not your average teenage girl. She is obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic figure of Captain Oates from Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. In fact, Oates is the secret confidant to whom she spills all her hopes and fears.
But Sym's uncle Victor is even more obsessed—and when he takes her on a dream trip into the bleak Antarctic wilderness, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that will challenge everything she knows and loves.
In her first contemporary young adult novel, Carnegie Medalist and three-time Whitbread Award winner Geraldine McCaughrean delivers a spellbinding journey into the frozen heart of darkness.
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Sym's quest for her own voice is mirrored in this quest for her Uncle Victor's reason for being. As Sym learns the truth about the constructs of her life she is forced to start thinking on her own, or suffer the consequences of her Uncle's madness. Sym discovers that her father did not go insane because he was sick, he went insane because he stopped believing in her Uncle Victor's quest to prove that the earth was hollow. Sym's struggle for literal survival is aided by "Titus" Oats, an explorer that perished on the Ice in 1911. Although Titus only seemingly exists in Sym's head he provides her with strength and the will to survive as she suffers from frostbite, starvation, a deep leg wound, and a lying partner. For the greater part of the novel Sym's "voice" is almost exclusively in her head. At the very end, after surviving a very real near death experience, Sym is able to speak for her self, and allow the voice in her head to match the voice coming out of her mouth.
The bones of this story are amazing, and the plot itself is in-depth and very intense. The characters are rich and round. The descriptions are beautiful and direct almost to a fault.
The narrative in the novel exists in the head of Sym. I had trouble buying into her character. The writing did not invest me enough in the beginning to care what happened in the middle, when it got overly wordy and very long. I worried that the only possible ending was that the whole expedition had been in Sym's head. Luckily this was not the case, but I feel that the novel would have been much better if half the bulk had been taken out. As I read I became very curious as to why this novel was a Michael Printz Gold Medal winner. I give it a 5 because I was inclined by the end to worry about poor Sym and whether she would get to see her mum again.
Top international reviews
I am devoted to books with Polar, frozen settings, and I do very much like fine writing for teens which does not patronise, dumb down, or underestimate the intelligence of that audience. As McCaughrean is definitely a writer without an ounce of `talking down to' in her writing, and is moreover a writer who makes any reader - teen or far beyond the YA world, work and pay attention whilst at the same time being driven on by `what happens next and to whom' urgency, I really expected to love this book
And I did and I didn't. The central character, Sym, is intelligent, wounded, rather a loner, and out of step within the world of her peers, who appear to be an unlikeable, superficial, tiresome bunch,
Sym is extremely likeable, an attractive combination of maturity and integrity but despite some sort of emotional wisdom, she is extremely innocent of `street smarts', and therefore extremely vulnerable to those without the integrity she has. And that is pretty well every character in the book.
She has a rich inner fantasy life. Her father died when she was quite young, and she has constructed a strong inner male hero, protector, guide, who teeters between father figure, someone SHE protects, and possible future lover. This fantasy figure is Titus Oates, always in her head and heart, with whom she has imagined conversations, whom she goes to for advice - he almost functions as an aspect of her best self. She is extremely complex, and absolutely out of step with a more simplistic, unsubtle world, especially a world filled with people on the make.
I failed to completely love this book in part because the situations Sym was manipulated into were very distressing indeed to an adult reader. I suspect the intended audience may have slightly tougher skins, certainly those that are possessed of street smarts and affect a world-weary demeanour. I found myself slightly shocked that this is a book for children. But it can't be denied that the world contains plenty of people who DO prey on, and exploit children, in many different ways.
McCaughrean tells her story sensitively and some of my sense of disturbance, paradoxically comes because she is so light touch. She trusts the reader's sensibility. . It is a book, apart from Sym herself and her imaginary presence of Titus Oates, pretty much without another major redeeming or redeemable character, whether adult or child/teen.
Sym herself is the only light, brightness. The frozen, indifferent, beautiful, treacherous landscape is a major character in this.
The only concession to the age of her audience, I felt, was the ending. Not quite one which works for this reader, I felt the author had pulled a little back from reality, allowed a couple of coincidences too far, to provide something a little more palatable, a little less bleak
Die Charaktere hätten mehr vertieft werden können - stellenweise doch sehr klischeehaft, z. B. die Antarktis-Touristen.
Dennoch ein empfehlenswertes Jugendbuch!
and some of the story line had weak spots. The ending was very disappointing - too rushed.