The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

McCaughrean, Geraldine (2005). The White Darkness. New York: Harpercollins. 384 pages.

A social outcast, deaf, with an imagined relationship with the deceased explorer Titus Oates, Sym is not an ordinary teenager. Living with her mother and uncle after her father’s death, Sym idolizes her Uncle and absorbs his obsession with the Antarctic. When Sym’s mother’s passport mysteriously disappears before she, Sym and Uncle Victor are able to board the train for a vacation to Paris, Sym is launched into her Uncle’s obsession with discovering an opening into the inner layers of the Earth that he believes houses another species. After becoming stranded in Antarctica, Sym is comforted by her “relationship” with Titus as her previous unshakable trust in her uncle is dismantled as she unravels the truth about their journey, her past and herself.

As a coming-of-age novel, Sym’s development from an uncle-idolizing, self-doubting, somewhat delusional teenager is expedited by her trip to the Antarctic with her Uncle Victor. This is one of the most unexpected and unique narratives that has come across my reading. Sym’s uncle reroutes the trip from Paris, and Sym is more than happy to accompany him to the South Pole. What starts off as a vacation exploration turns into a journey of discoveries. Sym’s narration and internal dialogue with Titus Oates provides insight into Sym’s growth as she realizes the truth about her past and about her uncle. Her relationship with the imaginary Titus changes from a comfort to her realization that he IS actually imaginary. Luckily her knowledge of the Antarctic is vast since she submerged herself into her uncle’s obsession, learning as much about the explorers, the geography and the perils of the continent. Her knowledge, coupled with the necessity to be covered from head to foot by bulky warm clothing gives her confidence to be herself. The great part about this novel is not the shiny Printz medal on the front cover, but Sym’s transformation in the Antarctic desert. Before the trip, Sym seems to be capable of descending into a state of mental darkness–lonely, imaginary explorers, without friends or a father–but it is her excursion to a land of nothing, a land of silence that awakens the confidence dormant in herself. The novel seems hopeless, but evolves into one of hope. The hints of sensuality and sexuality of Sym’s character would be a fantastic case study.

I think the best hook for this novel would be to provide visuals. There are a couple of self-made book trailers available for this book, though I did not find them very compelling. I would most likely attempt to create my own book trailer showing images of complete darkness in contrast with the blinding white of the Antarctic desert. I would also show images of the imaginary crevice for which Uncle Victor is searching. If lacking skills or the technology, a simple Power Point presentation with various images would also be quite effective. A dramatic sentence for each slide would be a fantastic way to introduce Sym’s adventure and self-discovery.

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