Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

This is winner of the Prinz Award for Young Adult Literature. People seem to either hate it or love it. It is complex and needs a thoughtful reader. It reminds me of a long ago Newbery Winner - Ellen Raskin's Westing Game. It is part historical fiction in which we learn about various missions to Antarctica to find the south pole. Some failed and some succeeded. It is part geography book in which the narrator tells us about various forms of ice - fish hook sharp and anthill hollow at the Devil's Ballroom and weather -whiteouts and blizzards in Antarctica. This is part adventure story, a search for the opening into the hollow earth where live albino people in a world within our world as John Cleves Symmes conceived it in the 1800's and some still believe. This is part survival story when the search fails, fuel and supplies are lost. This is mostly a mystery as it unfolds horrifically before our teen narrator Symone and shared with the reader through her thoughts, conversations with pretend friend Lawrence (Titus) Oates and with her mad uncle Victor. In many mysteries the reader has some insider knowledge that we do not have here just as Sym does not have any insider knowledge. Sym has a passion for all things Antarctica passed on to her by her father before he died. She is named for John Cleves Symmes of the Hollow Earth Theory that intrigued and obsessed both her father and his friend Victor. She has made a pretend friend of Titus Oates who was part of the failed 1910 Antarctic expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Victor concocts a scheme in which he and Sym go to the Antarctic as part of a tourist expedition. Once there, the other tourists mysteriously all fall ill save Sym, Victor, Norwegians Manfred Bruch and his young companion Sigurd. This frees these four to outfit a Hagglund for a cross ice trip using a gps to coordinates where the portal to hollow earth is believed to exist. A Hagglund is a vehicle designed to travel for long periods across ice, crevasses, up/down icebergs. This is where the real adventure begins with disagreements among the participants and slow revelations as to the true mad, obsessive, scary nature of Victor and the journey. It continues with mishap after mishap and a determination beyond reason to reach the portal. In the end it is Sym's pretend friend that saves her from death in the antarctic like Titus himself experienced. Sym is a strong, invincible teen female. Other books with gutsy girls include East by Pattou, Bloody Jack by Meyer, L.A., True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Airborn by Oppel, Maximum Ride by Patterson and Pullman's series His Dark Materials. JDW 3/5/08

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