Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: "The White Darkness" by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White DarknessTitle: The White Darkness
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Publisher: HarperTempest, 2005
Where I got it: The library.

Fourteen-year-old Sym knows all there is to know about Antarctica—the landscape, the history, the explorers and how they survived (or didn't). Especially dear to her is Captain Oates of the failed Scott expedition of 1, in whom she confides all of her hopes, dreams, and fears within her head, a character all his own within the book. When her Uncle Victor surprises her with a trip down south—way south—she is thrilled. But Victor is not telling her everything, and she eventually finds herself on the terrifying mission of a madman. Does Sym know enough to keep herself alive in the white darkness?

The White Darkness has gotten much acclaim, and managed to snag a Printz award. The writing is often quite lyrical, with original and evocative similes ("...everything was so still, we could have been at the bottom of a glass of milk" (187)). The premise is also great—trapped in the Antarctic with no one to rely on but yourself. Yet despite all this, the execution was not good enough.

Though the writing was very good, it was hard to like Sym as a character. She has a lot of self-esteem issues, it's true, but I didn't really feel any sympathy for her. Perhaps it is her detachment from her family and her father's death, and her complete lack of passion for anything besides Antarctica and Titus. Her father recently died, but she is convinced that he didn't like her. However, she gives no reasons as to why except her uncle told her so. She doesn't seem to have any affection for her mother either, even though she should be the most important person in Sym's life. Somehow Victor has brainwashed Sym, and we as readers can't figure out why—the relationship is too poorly developed.

Despite the supposed action of the book, I found myself bored with it most of the time. Sym is not a very interesting person, despite all McCaughrean does to try to develop the character. She is bland, while struggling with her insecurities. McCaughrean tries to make this into a book where her main character comes to terms with her sexuality and interest in boys, which seems wildly out of place, especially with how it is resolved at the very end. Her ruminations on sex and romance are what distracts her from her predicament, but it seems very wrong that she should remove herself to the point where she's distracted from surviving.

Though The White Darkness did very well with critics, I can't see many teens getting through this book. There are too many words and too much irrelevant thought to the adventure to make this a good adventure story.


  1. I hate when a book gets a big award and then I read it and just feel "meh" about it. This has an interesting premise. Too bad it was a dud for you. I wonder sometimes if the adults (teachers, librarians, etc.) like certain books more than the children and thus it gets the award.

  2. Awards don't mean much to teens. They mean a lot to the adults that give them. I've had this book in my high school library since it came out -- I'm not sure it's ever been checked out -- or at least not much. I haven't read it, so I can't speak about that.

  3. Yeah, we actually talked a lot about that in class tonight. Why certain books get awards and what it means, or if teens will even read them. I agree Annette, it's way more about the adults than the teens themselves. But we could get into a huge discussion about this!


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