Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Miss Barnes reviews this year's Printz winner: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
Okay, I'll admit that the Printz winner and honor books this year weren't really on my radar until the awards were announced, but if my reaction to the first book is any indication, wow, the Printz committee picked some fascinating books. "The White Darkness" is probably not the best book to read when you are in the Chicago area whining about how cold it is, since the book is set in Antarctica. Or maybe that makes it the perfect read.
Sym is a fourteen year old British girl who is definitely the odd one out in her group of friends. They enjoy gossiping about boys and reading teen magazines; Sym likes talking to a famous dead explorer, Titus Oates, in her head. If that premise makes you decide that the book is not for you, think again. Sym is just your regular eccentric underdog. It's just that the quirks I chose to tell you first, her defining quirks, are rather particular. She's also painfully shy. The one thing that seems to make her feel good is hanging out with her uncle, who has the same passion for Antarctic explorers, of which Titus Oates is among the most famous. He and his crew died trying to reach the South Pole.
Anyway, so when her uncle whisks her away to Paris for a weekend, Sym is totally stoked! And when he tells her that they might be heading "down south" for a few weeks, she's even more excited. Then she learns he's taking her to Antarctica. Within a few days, there she is, in Antarctica, one of the coldest, most barren and beautiful places in the world. They are there with a small group of adventure vacationers, aka rich people who wanted to see Antarctica. Things are going fine, until everyone gets sick. Everyone except for Sym and her uncle. Soon after, it becomes clear to Sym that her uncle had quite another mission in mind, one that will take them to the places Oates once saw, before he, along with his colleagues, perished.
"The White Darkness" is a riveting adventure tale that will have you shivering and convinced you are right beside Sym and the man in her head, Titus Oates, stuck in Antarctica with a crazy man. It's a small, thick book, but if you're a voracious reader, you'll get through it in no time. I started reading Sunday night, and finished it Monday afternoon. (And I worked all day Monday!) But this book is also more than an adventure tale, it's a test of character, a thriller, a peek into a weirdo's mind, and a brilliant read from start to finish.
* * * * *
Recommended to: adventure readers, anyone who likes literary fiction, and rooting for the underdog. Grades 8 and up.