Book review: Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
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“Every time a lad came fowling on St Kilda stacs, he went home less of a boy and more of a man. If he went home at all that is.
In the summer of 1727, a group of men and boys are put ashore on a remote sea stac to harvest birds for food. No one returns to collect them. Why?”This post may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer here
Our review of Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
About the book
Based on a real event that took place on the remote islands of St Kilda in the 18th Century, this book tells an enthralling story.
Once a year, during summer, groups of Hirta residents cross the sea to the hostile and bare Warrior Stac. The crossing is part of the way of life of the Islanders. The party of boys and men are taken by boat to the stac – a lone tall outcrop of rock – and spend several weeks “fowling” there.
The birds that flock there through the summer months provide valuable resources of oil, meat, eggs and feathers. These are used to pay rent to the owner of the islands and sold on to inhabitants of the Scottish mainland.
Quilliam has joined the expedition several times, he keeps an eye on the younger lads who have less experience. He daydreams about Murdina, a young woman who has recently visited Hirta from the mainland. Quill expects he will never see her again. She is due to return to the mainland before the fowling party’s return.
Quill is an agile climber and experienced fowler. He climbs the sheer rock face of the stac and earns the title of King Gannet by killing the lookout bird. The fowlers set up camp in a bothy, a small cave that will be their home for a few weeks. The living conditions on the bare and barren rock are extraordinary. But the visiting birds make the stac a rich resource.
When the time comes for the boat to return to collect the boys and men, there is no sign of the boat at all. Asking why the boat does not come, the fowlers search for reasonable explanations. A problem with the boat seems likely. But as more time passes their speculations become wilder. Many begin to believe that the world itself has ended and that they are the only people left on it.
Their isolated existence continues and the dynamics of the relationships between the stac’s new inhabitants shift. Quill holds on to his memories of Murdina and he supports one of the youngest boys Davie. Quill’s friend John confides a secret to him. Meanwhile, an older boy – Kenneth – acts the bully. While two of the older men attempt to keep the boys busy with surviving, one of the men – Col Cane – takes on the role of minister. The group’s survival becomes more and more precarious as summer ends, the birds leave and the elements become harsher.
What I loved about this book
The incident that turns the lives of the boys upside down is startlingly simple and harshly shocking. As readers, we are also left wondering why the boat has not returned to collect the boys. As I read the book I felt emotionally caught up in the narrative and utterly gripped by the touching humour and threat of tragedy.
The characters are intriguing and we are left wondering how we could possibly cope in such an alarmingly alien situation. It’s incredible to imagine how the boys and men would feel being in that situation which was at first familiar and then became shockingly different.
Based on a true story, the book is a stunning historical fiction. Although the 1727 incident was officially documented, the thoughts and personal accounts of the ordeal of the boys and men were not collected. McCaughrean’s exploration of the way the stranded fowling party could have coped with and survived such an ordeal is a touching and beautiful book.
Who will enjoy Where The World Ends?
I found this book in the middle-grade-fiction section of the bookshop. However, it came with a 12+ note and it is definitely at the more mature end of children’s fiction as it deals with frightening and tragic circumstances in a realistic way. Older children who enjoy action, adventure and thoughtful fiction will love it. Slightly younger readers who are able to deal with challenging texts would also appreciate it. I’d also highly recommend this book to older readers who enjoy historical fiction or drama.
About the author and more Geraldine McCaughrean books
Geraldine McCaughrean has won many awards for her writing of children’s fiction. I’m now inspired to read other novels by her, including The Middle of Nowhere. She has also written retellings of The Odyssey and Stories from Shakespeare for young readers. She lives in a cottage surrounded by wild birds, not unlike the birds which are also key characters in Where The World Ends!
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