The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean has one of the most unusual premises of any young adult book I’ve ever read. A girl, who is in love with a long-dead explorer, ends up going to the same part of the world where he died and risks following him to the same fate. There’s danger, drama, and adventure on the outside while on the inside there’s an ongoing conversation between two people, one living and one dead.
There are times that I read books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I think, hmmm … I can see why they thought that was a great book, but I would find it hard to recommend to most teenagers I know and I definitely couldn’t booktalk it to an entire class! But The White Darkness has enough appeal and enough unique layers that as soon as I finished reading it I knew that I wanted to share it with a larger audience.
Sym has always had trouble fitting in. She doesn’t have many friends, and a lot of kids in school make fun of her. Her father didn’t like her very much either, but he’s dead now, so that doesn’t really matter anymore. Her mom is okay, but Sym actually gets along better with Uncle Victor, who isn’t really her uncle but more a friend of the family. But Uncle Victor is the only one who really understands just how much she loves the Antarctic. How much she dreams of following in the footsteps of the brave explorers who went on doomed expeditions to the South Pole, many of whom lost their lives surrounded by miles of ice and snow.
In fact, while Sym has never had a boyfriend, there is one man who she loves more than anything in the world, and that man is Titus Oates. As in, the late Titus Oates. You see, Titus is one of those explorers who never came back from the Antarctic alive. But Sym has read so many books, seen so many videos, and learned so much about Titus’ life that she feels like she knows him. She even has long conversations with him inside her head. But that’s not a secret Sym tells anyone — not even Uncle Victor.
Now Sym’s life stays pretty much the same until the day that Uncle Victor offers to take her and her mother to Paris for the weekend. Sym thinks this is a great plan, even though the plan keeps changing. First her mother’s passport went missing, so she was unable to go with them. Then the weekend trip to Paris turned into several weeks in Antarctica. Since Sym has always wanted to go there, she’s delighted. But it’s when they reach the end of the world that Sym’s dream turns into a nightmare.
Sym is going to learn some very painful truths … about Antarctica, about Uncle Victor, and about herself. She will find herself in incredible danger while surrounded by miles of ice and snow in every direction. And her only hope of survival will be to rely on everything she’s ever learned about the Antarctic, her intuition, and the voice of a long-dead explorer that only she can hear.