The White Darkness
  • The White Darkness
  • The White Darkness

The White Darkness

4.1 18
by Geraldine McCaughrean

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

"Lyrical language actively engages the senses, plunging readers into a captivating landscape that challenges the boundaries of reality….This imaginative novel offers plenty of action."
The Horn Book
“What makes the book truly stand out is Sym’s unique personality... and, through it all, McCaughreen’s inspired wordplay and powerful imagery.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Lyrical language actively engages the senses, plunging readers into a captivating landscape that challenges the boundaries of reality….This imaginative novel offers plenty of action.”
Publishers Weekly

Symone, 14, narrates McCaughrean's (Peter Pan in Scarlet) tale about the trip of a lifetime gone horribly wrong. Hearing-impaired and unpopular, Sym appreciates the attentions of "Uncle" Victor, her dead father's business partner and the family's seeming benefactor. Victor, an eccentric genius obsessed with proving the discredited Hollow Earth theories of John Symmes, has fostered in Sym a lifelong fascination with Antarctica. Indeed, Sym's only companion is an imaginary friend, Lawrence "Titus" Oates, who perished in 1912 during Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Sym is thrilled when Victor spirits her off for an impromptu trip to Paris, which morphs�incredibly�into a trek to Antarctica, as the two join a crowd of rich tourists for a guided look at "The Ice's" astounding landscape. Victor aligns with Manfred Bruch, a purported Norwegian filmmaker, and his son. Guests and guides alike become mysteriously ill, and the tour is cut short, but the plane intended to return the group to safety explodes. After Victor's "nice cup of tea" induces sleep in everyone else, the four abscond on Victor's mad quest for Symmes's Hole. The heroine's relentless self-deprecation, a necessary element of her unconditional acceptance of Victor, is nonetheless somewhat overplayed. But the ratcheting terror, thrilling double-crosses and gorgeously articulated star character�Antarctica itself�combine for a girl's adventure yarn of the first order. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Elaine J. O'Quinn
Reading this book is like no other reading experience for this reviewer. The combination of the surreal setting of the Antarctic wilderness, the main character's "imaginary" friend Oates, and the completely deranged uncle who brings these two things together makes for a text that crosses back and forth between fantasy and reality in a nightmarish way. As Symone (Sym for short) and her Uncle Victor trek across the frozen plains and glaciers of the South Pole, readers cannot help but be drawn in by what is clearly Victor's spiral into insanity. Between the extreme conditions of the environment and the overriding obsession of her uncle to find an underground world that he is convinced exists, Sym is led into another form of madness. With only Oates and her own wit to count on, Sym must find a way to remain sane enough to survive an impossible situation. McCaughrean's writing is a bit verbose, and some might find the story's ending a tad unbelievable, especially considering that Sym is traveling in an impossibly hostile setting with a man who is not afraid to murder, lie, and risk the lives of others to achieve his "dream." For those who like adventure and unrelenting wickedness, however, it might be the right book. Those not familiar with the story of Captain Scott's 1911 South Pole expedition should read the brief history provided at the end of the story. It helped this reviewer make sense of what was going on sooner than she would otherwise have done.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This is an amazing work, highly praised in Great Britain where it was first published; there is no question that McCaughrean is a fine writer. The novel is difficult, however, to read and absorb; and it is a challenge to describe briefly in a review in this format. It is about an obsession about Antarctica. Sym has "issues" that set her apart from "normal" teenagers in England, and when the opportunity comes to take a leave from school to go with her brilliant but odd Uncle Victor on a tour of Antarctica, she is thrilled. He has been giving her books for years about the Scott expedition and other historical sagas featuring the place, and in her own odd way, she has created an imaginary companion in the long-dead Captain Oates from that doomed Scott expedition. She talks to Titus and imagines he speaks back to her. Any other relationship in her life is weak by comparison. Once in Antarctica with a group of tourists, she finds she fits in better than she is used to fitting in—this is a place she has spent years preparing for. However, Uncle Victor reveals his madness, his lifelong passion to prove there is a gate to the interior of the Earth near the pole, and in his madness he takes Sym and some others into the white darkness that is Antarctica. Then the story becomes one of survival, and Sym finds strength and essential knowledge from the dead Titus who is with her. The minute details of the landscape, the doomed expeditions—both Scott's and Uncle Victor's—and the imagined mind and heart of Sym as she survives and becomes reborn in a way: these are the elements of this story that make it unusual and challenging.
Children's Literature - Kelly Grebinoski
Going to Paris is a trip of a lifetime, especially for fourteen-year-old, Sym. She does not get to Paris but rather she ends up in Antarctica. Luckily for her, it is a place she has always wanted to go. Her father is dead and his business partner, Victor, takes her on this incredible journey. Uncle Victor is really insane and the extent of his madness comes out. Sym is not really the typical middle school girl either. She is not into boys, passing notes, and make-up. She is into Captain Lawrence (Titus) Oates, a hero of the Antarctic who is no longer alive. Her fate is not the same as Titus Oates, but he does play a large roll in her adventure. She relies on him, confides in him, and needs him. Titus Oates is real—as real as he can be in Sym's head. When the expedition gets out of control, Sym struggles for her life, learns to rely on those who are not there, and finds true love along the way. She learns a lot about survival, about herself, and her uncle. The scenery is beautifully described in vivid details and elaborated scenes. The pages turn quickly and excitingly like the reader is there in the mix. Readers will find something they can connect with, be in awe of, and will realize not everything is what it seems.
Kirkus Reviews
A teenager's coming of age undergoes particularly harsh annealing in this intense, inwardly focused survival tale. Eccentric but ever supportive, both before and after her father's slow death, Victor has been "Uncle" to shy, nearly deaf Sym since childhood. When she trustingly steals away with him to Antarctica, however, and finds herself roaring off into the howling wilderness in a stolen all-terrain vehicle, she gradually comes to learn that he has involved her in a mad effort to find a legendary entrance to an equally legendary underground world. As layers of deception peel away, Victor turns out to be a scary character indeed-outwardly brilliant and genial, but in truth an obsessed, treacherous, blithely murderous poisoner. 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. (author's note) (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.77(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Read an Excerpt

The White Darkness

By Geraldine McCaughrean

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Geraldine McCaughrean
All right reserved.

Chapter One


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 then the age difference won't matter.

Besides, he isn't dead inside my head. We talk about all kinds of things. From whether hair color can change spontaneously to whether friends are better than family, and the best age for marrying: 14 or 125. Generally speaking, he knows more than I do, but on that particular subject we are even. He wasn't married--at least, he wasn't when he died, which must have substantially cut down his chances.

Uncle Victor says I shouldn't marry at all. Uncle Victor knows about these things and he says that "marriage is a bourgeois relic of Victorian sentimentality." That suits me. No one would match up to Titus. And we have a kind of understanding, Titus and I.

Uncle Victor is marvelous. He's done so much for us--for Mum and me, I mean. And anyway, he's just so clever. Uncle Victor knows a fantastic amount. He knows at what temperature glass turns to liquid, and where Communism went wrong and how the Clifton Suspension Bridge was built and just what the Government ought to be doing; you can't fault him. He's read books about everything: history, geography, politics, astrology, animals . . . the Fount of AllKnowledge, Dad used to call him.

I would get stuck doing my homework, and Dad would say, "Ask the Fount of All Knowledge." And I'd telephone Victor and he would tell me. Quite often he knew more than the teachers, so they'd think I'd got my homework wrong, but as Victor says, "What teachers don't understand is that the body of learning is still growing. They reckon it stopped the day they came out of college. That, or they're plain ignorant. Lot of ignorance in yon schools."

It's true that none of my teachers knows much about Antarctica. When Dad and Victor and I went to Iceland, one of the teachers had been, too, and knew all about Dettifoss and the hot springs and people having stinking saunas in their backyards. But none of the teachers at school has been to Antarctica. Some of them know about Scott of the Antarctic going to the South Pole and not coming back. But they mostly mean John Mills in the movie. I don't.

In the general way of things, I don't know much about anything. Uncle Victor says I'm "the victim of a shoddy education system." But I do know about the Polar Regions. The bookshelves over my bed are full of books about the North and South Poles. Icebound almost. A glacial cliff face teetering over my bed. I remember, the night after Dad had been rushed into the hospital, one of the shelves sheared off and crashed down on me. I woke up thinking the house was collapsing--books gouging at my head, bouncing off the bed frame, slapping flat on the floor. I looked at the hole in the wall and the brackets on the pillow and I didn't know what to do.

About the shelf. About anything.

So I went back to sleep, and dreamed that I was sailing toward the Ross Ice Shelf, and that crags were splitting off its face, plunging down, massive as seagoing liners foundering.

Come to think of it, Uncle Victor gave me most of my ice books. Every birthday and Christmas. Books about The Ice and the North Pole; about Shackleton and Scott, Laurence Gould and Vivian Fuchs, Nansen and Barents, Franklin and Peary; about penguins and polar bears, whales and seals and boreales . . . About Captain Lawrence Oates--the one they called "Titus." Uncle Victor understands how the whole idea creeps up on you like pack ice--pressing in and pressing against your head, then crushing the hull and tumbling inside. . . . If we ever did a project at school on Antarctica, I could shine. Like Mount Erebus in mid-summer, I could, I could shine!

Except that I don't think I would choose to. It's all bound up with Titus, and I know better than to mention Titus at school. I do now, anyway. I made that mistake once. I won't do it again.

"Symone has a pretend friend! Symone has a pretend friend!"

It was the conversation about kissing--or snogging, as they invariably call it. Like the ant nest in the larder: You think you've done everything to be rid of it--that it can't possibly come back again--but there it is: "How many boys have you snogged?" There is no right answer. You say "none" and you're sad and frigid or they know someone whose brother would be willing to snog you for cash. You refuse to answer and you are sadder still--or hiding something, or prefer girls, or . . . It's not that they care; they only want to tell you how many they've snogged--chiefly because they like saying the word. It makes them feel as if they are wearing red underwear. But on and on they go: "How many boys, Sym? How many boys have you snogged?"

Why is it that all the words to do with sex are ugly? Words to do with love aren't. No wonder Titus thought women were a nuisance. No wonder he died without ever . . . getting mixed up with all that.

Anyway, I said that I could do without it. (At least that's what I tried to say. I don't explain things very well out loud.) I tried to say that I was happy to stick with imagining for the time being, thanks all the same. Later, maybe. If I ever met anyone who could compare with Titus . . .

And after that I was the mad girl--sad, frigid, and mad, all three--the retard who had an imaginary friend: "Like little kids do, oo-hoo. Like little kids do!"


Excerpted from The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean Copyright © 2007 by Geraldine McCaughrean. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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