Sym adores Antarctica. And she adores Lawrence Oates, nicknamed Titus, one of the men in Scott’s doomed Antarctic expedition. Titus Oates is something like an imaginary friend to her, or what fanfiction authors might call a muse: a voice in her head that she talks to for comfort, for advice, or just for good conversation (better than she gets from her shallow classmates). She adores, too, her Uncle Victor, who is not actually her uncle, but her late father’s business partner. So she leaps at the chance to go to Paris with Uncle Victor, except that it winds up not being Paris, but Antarctica. Which is great, right? Except that it’s not.
What strikes me about this book is that it’s an extremely literary novel dressed up as a survival/adventure story. The meticulously researched setting and the perilous events are there, but the real focus is what’s happening underneath, what really happened, who knows which secrets. I loved the first moment I picked up on the distance between what Sym tells the reader and what is actually going on, but even better than that was the first moment when Sym dismissively says that of course she knows things are a lot worse than they seem. What is this: something she’s known all along? A defense mechanism, like she doesn’t want to admit to having been deceived?
This is a Printz winner that I can get behind a hundred percent: a book that is complicated and rewarding from a literary perspective, with more subtle technique than a lot of literary YA novels, and that is also thrillery and suspenseful and full of absolutely convincing polar atmosphere.
<blockquote>At the center is a blank whiteness where the planet isn’t finished. It’s the address for Nowhere.</blockquote>