Lisa is Busy Nerding's Reviews > The White Darkness

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
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May 09, 09

Read in May, 2009

in a sentence or so: Sym is a bit socially awkward. that could be because she has an imaginary boyfriend that's been dead for 90 years. or that her main hobby/interest in life is all things Antarctica related. so when her uncle offers her an all expenses paid (and quite suspicious) trip to Antarctica - she's game.

Sym, short for Symone, is a 14 year old who is known by her classmates for her hearing aids and her imaginary boyfriend, Titus Oates. not exactly a social butterfly. often looking inward to hang out with Titus or to reflect with her own thoughts, her efforts to talk to others often involve awkward exchanges and incomplete sentences. Titus hasn't always been a part of Sym's life though. it wasn't until after her father's growing madness and eventual death that Titus became the most real person in her life. that's not to say her mom doesn't love her (she does) or that her Uncle Victor doesn't take care of them (he helps pay the bills).

Uncle Victor (not a real uncle, but the friends-of-the-parents type of uncle) is to be credited for Sym's obsession with Antarctica. it is his life goal to go to The Ice and to take Sym, his right hand girl. so when presented with the opportunity to travel to Antarctica, even though she suspects some weird things are going on, she becomes his traveling companion willingly and enthusiastically. their journey brings them into The Ice with several other travelers, including a Norwegian father and son combo that intrigues Uncle Victor. after mere days of being on The Ice, Sym is resisting suspcisions that Uncle Victor has alternative intentions for their time there. suspicions that turn out to be true.

knowing this was a Printz Award Winner, i had high expectations. i was not disappointed. the plot - past and present, is revealed one layer at a time. some revelations are confirmed suspicions, some were shocks to me. also, the deceit runs thick with these characters. pretty much every character has something to hide - including Sym and her imaginary friend. despite the surface description of Sym, she really grew on me. i viewed her less and less like a weirdo and more like a normal teen as i read on. one of the things i liked the most about Sym was her take on Sigurd, the son of the Norwegian father and son combo. there was no romantic pining, no girlish giggling, no gushy-ness. i really appreciated the refreshing look on relationships and how Sym handled the affections of her constant companion.

this book is bursting with archetypes. most notable are the epic journey through the arctic wilderness, the good natured hero we find in Sym, the deceit running rampant, and how this is most of all a coming of age story. we begin to see Sym more clearly as she sees herself and others more clearly. sometimes that clarity brings pain, sometimes it feels rewarding. overall, a really great read. the descriptions of the arctic were great, the emotions were real, and the writing was solid.

fave quotes: "I like to do my daydreaming when I'm awake; but I didn't say so because that would sound loony. Some nights I don't sleep at all - not from midnight til morning because I'm with Titus and I've got such good imagining going, and, the next day, flashes of delight go through my stomach like electricity - as if something real and marvelous has happened and I've just remembered. But if I admitted to that, Uncle Victor would say that's why I'm so slow witted - because I waste my time and energy daydreaming." (44)

"When the White Darkness sets in, it's such a kindness. All shadows disappear - the sky, the ground - leaving nothing but a milky, trembling nothingness. It's a sweet light, a pleasant light, like lying under a sheet on a summer morning: the presence of light without any of the usual complications - like being able to see. Perfect ignorance was like this, I remember: a feeling of enlightenment without ever quite grasping what was going on. They call it the White Darkness." (305)

fix er up: i felt like it ended a bit abruptly when compared with the journey-tone of the rest of the book.
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