2008 Printz Award Winner

Fourteen-year-old Symone (Sym) knows just about everything there is to know about the coldest, bleakest place on earth: Antarctica. Socially awkward, suffering from a hearing impairment, painfully shy, Sym finds solace in an imaginary companion, legendary polar explorer Titus Oates, who died in an ill-fated 1911 expedition to the South Pole. Absorbed by books about Antarctica, Symone dreams of traveling there someday, of finding herself as a result: It was so empty, so blank, so clean, so dead. Surely, if I was ever to set foot down there, even I might finally exist.

When a weekend jaunt to Paris with her brilliant Uncle Victor leads to a surprise ticket on a three-week polar expedition, Sym is thrilled. At last, she will be able to see the land of her dreams, the place where Oates disappeared almost a hundred years before. When Sym and her fellow travelers land on The Ice, though, she gradually recognizes the true extent of Uncle Victor's obsession with Antarctica, a mania that goes beyond mere fascination and borders on madness. As Victor embarks on an odyssey to find Symmes's Hole, a supposed entryway to a hollow earth, it seems he is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone even Sym to reach his goal.

Accomplished, prolific, always surprising author Geraldine McCaughrean has produced another remarkable story in The White Darkness, her first contemporary novel for young adults. With its brutal but beautiful setting, scenes of captivating drama and anguished violence, the narrative deeply probes Sym's troubled mind. Even as the teenager fights for her life among the dangers of the polar desolation, she questions her own sanity, and her experiences challenge readers, too, to read between the lines and discover her hidden strength and courage, buried not only beneath her outer vulnerability and weaknesses, but also beneath thousands of feet of deadly ice.

Norah Piehl is a writer in the Boston area.

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