Thursday, February 21, 2008

The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean

Sym has always been a bit obsessed by Antarctica, and under the tutelage of her doting Uncle Victor, she has learned a great deal about it. Victor has little tolerance for formal schooling and a lot of influence with Mum (ever since her Dad died), so when he proposes a trip to Paris in the middle of exams, but that trip to Paris quickly becomes a trip much further south. And, in the land of her dreams, Sym discovers that her uncle is a bit different than she imagined. But inside herself, she her a friend - the ghost of Capt Oates of the ill-fated Scott expedition to the Pole. Will it be enough to save her in the bitter wilderness of Antarctica?

Yes, it's this year's Printz winner, so it deserves a lot of respect, but it's hard for me to take seriously anyone who idolizes Scott (one of the greatest fools who ever explored - a point carefully ignored by the Brits who can't stand the idea that a Norwegian did it better by not being an arrogant twat, but I digress....).

British children must either be incredibly gullible and trusting of adults, or the people who write these books want to believe they are. It seems something of a trademark to have a child who lets horrible things happen to them simply because they believe that the grownups will take care of them. American teens (or the adults who write about them) are more cynical. In a post-Nixon America, no one buys the idea that the grownups will take care of you. Rather, we know that you can't trust anyone over the age of 18. This is no small matter. Much of the story centers around Sym's blind faith in her uncle and the horrible (and utterly telegraphed) fact that he is letting her down. That she finally realizes this around page 307 is utterly unbelievable, but if you can't believe it, the book is a hard slog.

Holding aside that tragic flaw, the book has decent writing and once you get used to Sym's precious dialog with the ghost of Oates (I tended to gloss through it because of the sheer tedium), you do get into a good roll. I'll even admit that I had trouble putting the book down once I hit page 150 or so, but that's because it is a decent adventure story and I'm a sucker for Antarctica.

Decent enough read? Yes. Clever story telling? Perhaps. Best YA book of 2007? Not even close.

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