The White Darkness Review



The White Darkness cover art

The White Darkness cover art

Mccaughrean, Geraldine.  The White Darkness.  New York: HarperTempest.  2005.

384 pages

Q3 – P3 – J – S

Grade 7-12

Symone is a fourteen year old outcast with nearly no friends.  She’s painfully shy and feels trapped inside herself partly because she is hearing impaired and partly her peers are cruel and lack empathy.  When she comes to school and says her dad died Maxine tells Smy’s friend Nats “Don’t worry.  I expect she just imagined it.”  Thats the final straw for Symone.  She, “sealed myself inside.  Laced up the tent so to speak.  Filled the locks with water so that they would freeze.  Thats when Titus and I looked at each other and decided we could do without them, so long as we had each other.” Readers will benefit from reading the postscript first, as mentioned in the authors introduction.  Titled, “Scott of the Antarctic”, Mccaughrean tells the story of Captain Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1910.  It sets a tone of ominous isolation for this tale of adventure driven by madness.  It also helps with an understanding of Sym’s obsession with the Antarctic and her inner love affair with Captain Titus Oates, whom she makes into an imaginary friend of sorts or an inner voice.  He guides her and gives her strength though out her trials is the Antarctic.  Other than Oates (a member of Scott’s expedition) Sym has no one aside from her mother and her eccentric creepo “uncle” Victor.  Sym trusts him and thinks he’s smart.  Perhaps she likes him only for the fact that her supports and encourages her interest in the Arctic and she finds this validating.  Whatever the reason Sym seems blind to the fact that her Uncle has in fact, kidnapped her and taken her on a suicide mission.  Together they travel to seek out Uncle Victor’s obsession and great hypothesis, Symmes Hole, on an Antarctic expedition with the Pengwings tour group.  There they meet the Norwegian film director, Manfred Bruch, and his son Sigurd, who expresses interest in Symone but the whole situation is weird and everyone’s intentions seem hidden.


The possibilities of what Uncle Victor has planned for Sym drive the plot and journey into the wilderness forward. The book paints a vivid picture of Sym’s vivid inner emotional and imaginative life making this book equally driven by setting and character.  They combine with the bat shit craziness of Uncle Victor to make the book a real page turner that will quickly drawn teens in with it’s mystery and adventure.  Victor believes Symmes Hole is a portal to the inner layers of the Earth, which he believes is inhabited and civilized.  When the trip looks like it’s going to be cut short Victor steals the expedition’s amphibious truck, filled with food, fuel and other supplies.  With it he takes Manfred, Sigurd, and Sym on a harrowing and dangerous mission across the ice.  In the face of such madness Sym becomes strong, knowledgeable, and saves their life on several occasions all with the help of the deceased Captain Oates who comforts her and helps her along the way.  She learns to be true to herself and use common sense in the face of Victor’s deception and insanity and teens will like watching her grow from a passive girl who is too trusting to a strong and decisive survivor who is clever and had great amounts of inner strength.  Her and Sigurd are miraculously saved in the end by a series of lucky occurrences (a flying tent, a flaming amphibious vehicle, and a post card) and teens will be satisfied with the ending.

The cover art simultaneously conveys Sym’s silent seclusion from the outside world but her blue eyes are filled with a piercing darkness, showing a vivid and mysterious emotional life beneath it all.  Teens, especially if they know this is an adventure book, will want to know more about the darkness that lies within this girl, surrounded by a while coldness that threatens to engulf her.


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