The White Darkness – Geraldine McCaughrean
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.
Review: This book reminds me of my childhood. When I was around the age of the main character, Sym, I also had an obsession with Antarctica. Just like Sym, I had a shelf full of “ice books.” I read everything I could about Scott’s failed attempt to reach the South Pole in the early 1900s. Also like Sym, I was more comfortable with my imagination than with real people. It’s eerie to find a fictional character who is so similar to fourteen-year-old me.
Sym is obsessed with Antarctica, so she is thrilled when her uncle takes her on a surprise trip to this frozen wasteland. What she doesn’t know is that her uncle also has an obsession. He believes that there is a hole in Antarctica that leads to the center of the Earth. He’ll do anything to find the hole, even if it puts Sym’s life in danger. Once in Antarctica, the only person who Sym can fully trust is her imaginary boyfriend, Titus Oates.
This book is intense and beautifully written. It’s a survival story with amazing descriptions of Antarctica. You’re never sure which characters to trust because they all have selfish motives for being so far from home. They’ll even resort to murder to get what they want. By the end of the book, you can’t even trust Sym because the cold and sensory deprivation of Antarctica makes her hallucinate. I couldn’t stop reading this story. I had to find out how Sym would survive.
Sym is a slightly frustrating character because she’s very naïve, and the other characters manipulate her easily, but she’s still a realistic fourteen-year-old. She’s hearing-impaired and not comfortable with herself or her body. A lot of teenagers could probably relate to her.
My second-favorite character—after Sym—is Titus. The concept of an imaginary boyfriend is awesome. I haven’t read many books about characters who have imaginary friends. Titus has a dry sense of humor and jokes about his own death. He gives Sym the courage to keep going whenever she wants to give up.
I like Sym and Titus, but a few of the other characters are over-the-top. They’re a little cartoonish and unrealistic. I especially feel this way about Uncle Victor. I liked him more at the end of the book than at the beginning, but he still doesn’t seem like a real person. He’s a caricature of a mad scientist.
My only other criticism is about the pacing. The book gets repetitive in the middle because Sym spends a lot of time wandering aimlessly around Antarctica. I think the book could have been shorter. The repetitiveness makes it lose some of its intensity.
The relationship between Sym and Titus is intriguing, and the setting of this book is one of the more interesting settings I’ve come across in young adult fiction. If you like survival stories, you’ll probably enjoy The White Darkness.