The White Darkness rivals Peak

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean; published by HarperTempest, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York, 2005; 369 pages (including Postscript).

whitedarknessIn some ways, Symone “Sym” Wates is your typical 14 year old—she has low self esteem and daydreams about a different life.  As the story unravels, we discover she is not a typical teen: she is deaf, has an uncle that manipulates her, and has an imaginary friend for solace (oh, by the way, he’s Captian Oates, a brave, romantic figure who was part of Scott’s Antarctic expedition 90 years ago).  Uncle Victor, more family friend than family, has manipulated Sym since her birth—physically and emotionally; he is Sym’s father-figure.  In a major manipulative move, Uncle Victor plans a trip to Paris for Sym and her mother, but her mother’s passport disappears and Sym is off alone with him for a weekend adventure.  Only it’s not a weekend adventure.  Uncle Victor has arranged a trip to Antarctica to try to find the mythical Symme’s Hole (for which she’s been named) that leads into the inner earth where concentric earths exist and aliens live.  She is paired with a Norwegian boy, Sigurd, who is actually an actor and betrays Sym.  In the end, the weak one is the heroine.  In the end, Sym comes of age by saving herself, Sigurd, and even her tragic hero, Captain “Titus” Oates. 

It was serendipitous that I read this immediately after Peak.  Both adventure stories place 14 year old protagonists against the harshest winter weather to find themselves and unmask the lies and truths about their loved ones.  I enjoyed both books equally but in different ways.  Both novels are extraordinarily written, to the point that I had to remember that the authors were not in fact 14 year olds sharing their stories.  However, I found that the adventure in the books differed.  Peak’s adventure was palpable, physical.  Sym’s trials were physical but the story is a psychological study expressed through her emotional catharsis rather than the immediacy of the choices she made.  While I rooted for Peak, I found myself empathizing with Sym.  I think Peak might appeal more to boys but both genders would enjoy The White Darkness.

One point in favor of Peak over The White Darkness is the length of the books.  In some ways, The White Darkness reminds me of Moby Dick—Uncle Victor’s obsession with Symmes’ Hole, for example, as well as the length of the books.  I can remember having to read Moby Dick over Spring Break during my sophomore year of high school and hating it for its length and for ruining my vacation.  The White Darkness is too beautifully written to be assigned over vacation; it needs to be presented as the award-winning treasure that it is.

3P     5Q     Grade Level 9-12*

* Although the protagonist is only 14, and teens typically prefer to read about characters older than themselves, I think the psychological aspect of this book makes it more appropriate for older teens.

Cover Art: The pale face peeking through windblown hair and a furry hooded coat on a snowy white background is haunting and may make a teen curious enough to pick up the book and read the jacket flap.  The sketchy black font on the white spine might also make this title stand out on the shelves.

From Reading List: Michael L. Printz Award, 2008 Winner

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