The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

2005. 369 pages. Hardcover. HarperTempest.

From: public library

Recommendation from: The Bluestocking Society

For the challenge: The Colorful Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Fourteen year old Sym does not have a life or mind like that of her schoolmates.  Raised on stories of Antarctic exploration by her uncle Victor (not actually her relative but a friend of her father’s), Sym is enamored of the doomed explorer Titus Oates.  Oates lives in her head as her almost constant companion.  When Victor takes her on a trip to Antarctica, Sym is excited at first.  But when their fellow travelers start falling ill and Sym finds herself on a dangerous trip into the continent’s interior, Sym must question everything that she has believed is true.


I almost called it quits on The White Darkness about 40 pages in.  Though the writing was strong, I found the protagonist to be off-putting and frustratingly clueless.  Her mental conversations with Titus Oates felt like a stunt, and I was having trouble buying into any of it.  A review by a Stephanie on encouraged me to continue when she said that she didn’t get into it until page 70 or so.  And I’m very glad that I kept reading, because once I got adjusted to Sym’s mind and once she made it to Antarctica, I was hooked.

The White Darkness is both an adventure story and a psychological thriller and the Antarctic is a fantastic setting for both aspects.  Antartica’s wild and changeable nature tests the mental and physical mettle of those who dare venture into it.

Sym’s conversations with Titus Oates at first seem to represent an escape from reality but as the story progresses, he comes to represent all that is sane.  His is the voice of reason that helps Sym gain clarity.  He also gets some of the best lines.  At one point, Sym is thinking about her desire to see some of the historical sites in Antartica, including the the spot where Titus died.

“I won’t come on that one, if it’s all the same to you,” said Titus with Sunday-school politeness.  “I went once before and I didn’t enjoy it.” (p. 127)

Additionally, the writing seems to get warmer as the setting gets colder and colder.  I started off at a distance from Sym but came to like and root for her as she encounters danger after danger.

The book is classified as young adult but I think I enjoyed it more as an adult than I would have as a teenager.  From reviews I’ve read, The White Darkness seems to provoked mixed reactions, so it’s not for everyone.  However, I recommend giving it until about page 100 before making a decision.  It’s one that may need time to grow on you.

Other reviews:

Becky’s Book Reviews

Bending Bookshelf

books i done read

bookshelves of doom

The Bluestocking Society (see link above)

Hope is the Word


Filed under Book Review

4 responses to “The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

  1. Hm, from what you say, I’m wondering if I gave Geraldine McCaughrean a fair deal. I checked out three of her books a while ago, when I was on a YA reading kick, and I didn’t finish any of them. I got a little ways into each one and gave up. I will have to try her again and press on this time!

    • Those reviews that tell you it’s worth pressing on are really useful, as the one I encountered when trying to decide whether to continue with this book. Sometimes I know for sure that I don’t want to continue with the book, but I needed consultation on this one.

  2. Interesting review. I got confused when you said Titus died and then you had a quote from Titus as if he didn’t have a desire to go with Sym to the place where he died.

    This is a book I had not actually heard of yet and thanks for including that it takes a while to get into the book. I often give up pretty early on if I can’t get interested in something.

    • Rebecca – sorry for the confusion! Lawrence “Titus” Oates is an actual historical figure, who died on an Antarctic expedition in 1912. Sym learned about him growing up and he became sort of an imaginary friend in her head with whom she has conversations. It’s weird, but it ended up working in the end.

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