Flatiron Books, December 2019.
First Published by Usborne, 2017.
Hardcover Young Adult Fiction, 336 pp.
Includes Glossary of Birds and Words.
“It was a blade-sharp August day, the sea turned black by the sun’s brightness. And no, there were no omens hinting at trouble ahead. Hirta people notice such things. The clouds did not split open and let fall drops of blood: someone would have remembered that. No sinister bird settled on anyone’s roof. A gull flew over and dropped its mess on Mr. Cane—but that was nothing out of the ordinary. (Who wouldn’t, if they could?) But no signs, no dread omens.” (2)
When the author learned of a particular historical event that happened in St. Kilda in the early 18th century, it set a series of questions loose in her mind. Then she wrote an incredible reimagining, with a memorable cast of characters and haunting series of events. The story would have been enough of a marvel if described only in terms of fiction. But the histories and collective experiences require a narrative, a story to answer the questions—a belief the author will play out in the novel where questions (and their survival) demand answers. The fowling party will attempt to rely on the stories they’ve been given, and circumstances will change them—the stories, I mean, not just characters.
“At least Cane had offered them Heaven, angels, Judgment Day. At least Don was offering them family and hope. Farriss’s only explanation lay in tragedy, in having been utterly forgotten, and in a god who had turned his back and walked away.”
McCaughrean will not only translate the depth and ingenuity of human will in the face of survival, but the power of storytelling as its necessary life-partner.
McCaughrean tells the story of a fowling party sent to pillage the bounty of Warrior Stac. (Stacs/Stacks defined.) The party of “three men and nine boys” will collect a number of resources that will cover the islander’s rents and supply their households. It is a part of their life and livelihood and is seen as a rite of passage for the young males of the island. The female islanders form their own fowling parties and expeditions. The story is very much set in its time and place.
All goes according to tradition until the boat that is to retrieve them fails to arrive. In its continued absence, the crew begin to wonder why. That they settle on The Rapture is a fascination, and a horror… [and*] The revelation is one you must experience and I hope no one has/will spoil it for you beforehand. I was already impressed with McCaughrean’s pacing, but that moment is so well timed.
McCaughrean is a masterful storyteller twice over. Her protagonist, Quilliam spins and tunes and turns mythologies, crafting them to circumstance. He does so humbly, desperately, which makes him all the more compelling. It becomes Quill’s role, to tell the stories, to assign characters/crew members their roles. Each long for a purpose in a world that has suddenly become meaningless. They’d been seemingly forgotten and their work bent away from its earlier sense of fulfillment; their resources would be repurposed.
The course of time and its events challenges Quill’s ability to sustain his role, his narrative. And McCaughrean, again, poses a good question.
“Night had reinforced the storm’s cloaking blackness and there were no stars, no moon, only flickers of lightning like the ghosts of murderers sharpening their knives. More omens, thought Quill with a nauseated, bitter resentment. What good were omens without the wisdom to make sense of them?”
Quill hasn’t the experience: he is neither among the youngest, but neither is he a man fully grown. But then, the grown men seem to have exhausted their experience; their own minds and wills breaking. How much loss and unknowing can a body and a community survive. Quill and company’s grit is awe-inspiring, even in their failures. Again, the stories, and McCaughrean’s sentences/images that spin out of this life here ‘where the world ends’ are remarkable.
McCaughrean will bring it all together, stunning in the consistency of her characters who have also undergone a definite change. The heartbreak is beautiful and it stops up the throat and widens the eyes. You’ll flinch plenty during the course of the novel, but you’ll not be able to look away. You can’t help but hope for these humble fowlers’ rescue and wonder what the future might hold should they survive the stac.
The story changes them, the fowlers. And it will change the reader, themes transcending place and time; some circumstances all too familiar. But McCaughrean doesn’t just leave the reader with a sense of how powerful a story/narrative can be—many a reader understands this—but Where the World Ends is a reminder of how powerful a determined storyteller can be, how life-giving; that power to create and recreate; to sustain and (re)write a culture into the present–into one that survives.
Where the World Ends is a must. A historical fiction for those who rarely indulge in the genre. For those history-lovers who need more lyricism and an appreciation for the question and need for fiction. For those curious how to handle misogyny in a historical time period without normalizing it because historical realism (…employ a father of daughters who claims them).
Noted: Quill has effortlessly made the list of favorite protagonists.
Spoiler : do not read unless you’ve read the book!
*not entirely off-base. Which has me thinking about the idea of the rapture born out of mass-death (regardless of what it was that killed whole families/communities)?
Geraldine McCaughrean is the author of the Printz Award winner The White Darkness, the New York Times bestseller Peter Pan in Scarlet, and many other books for children and young adults. She is a two-time winner of the Carnegie Medal, including Where the World Ends. Geraldine lives in Berkshire with her husband, John, and the lingering shades of all those characters she has invented in her books. Her cottage is under year-round siege from wild birds demanding to be fed. The ducks even knock on the door.
Where the World Ends is…
Winner of the Carnegie Medal (2018)
Kirkus Best Book of the Year (2019)
Junior Library Guild Selection
ABA IndieNext Pick