The White Darkness
by Geraldine McCaughrean
YA fiction. 363 pp.
the flap copy:
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.
I read this book because it won the Printz this year and because I added it to my Printz Award Challenge. It took me a bit of time to get into it, but I'm glad I continued to work through it, even if I did interrupt the reading with other books along the way.
I had initial difficulty getting into it because I just didn't like Sym. Fortunately, one thing she had going for her was that I could tell that I would more than likely end up liking her. I had to work at this, because she adores her uncle, who I could tell was a very bad seed from the get-go. And she's very passive, which I find to be an amazingly taxing trait to tolerate. She was also a bit slow on figuring out what was going on. I've noticed that I can handle this in third-person narratives, but I don't take it quite as well in first-person narratives.
Perhaps the oddest bit about this book is Sym's relationship with Captain Oates. In fact, it's the second British YA I've read in the last couple months where the protagonist has a real person as an imaginary friend. Whereas in Slam the imaginary friend only speaks in sentences lifted from his autobiography, in this one, Sym actually converses with Oates. On the one hand, that was weird. On the other hand, it brought Oates to life for me in a way that makes him rather intriguing.
After my experience with the beginning of the book, I was having difficulties understanding why it had won the Printz. By the end of the book, when I was actually liking the protagonist, I was able to notice the excellent use of language, and that is where I think the beauty of The White Darkness lies.