Book review: Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
Usborne Publishing Ltd, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction / Children’s Fiction / YA Fiction
Approx. age guideline: 12+
We rate it: 5/5

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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?” 

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.

Where the World Ends begins

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.

harsh-ocean-illustrates-review-where-the-world-ends-geraldine mccaughrean

Many of the characters 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.

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What I loved about Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends

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.

The Where the World Ends true story

Based on a historic event, the book is a stunning exploration of when a group of three men and eight boys were stranded on the Warrior Stac. 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 fowling party could have coped with and survived such an ordeal is a touching and beautiful book.

The island where the fowlers lived most of the year, Hirta, is a stark environment itself which has no trees. It has been empty of human life since 1930 when its final residents chose to be evacuated and begin new lives on the mainland of Scotland.

What is the Where the World Ends reading age and who will enjoy it?

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!

More novels for children and young adults by Geraldine McCaughrean:

  • The Middle of Nowhere
  • Peter Pan in Scarlet
  • The Positively Last Performance
  • Stop the Train
  • Pull Out All the Stops!
  • The Death-Defying Pepper Roux
  • Tamburlaine’s Elephants
  • Cyrano
  • The White Darkness
  • Not the End of the World
  • Showstopper!
  • The Kite Rider
  • The Stones are Hatching 
  • Forever X
  • Casting the Gods Adrift
  • Plundering Paradise
  • Gold Dust
  • A Pack of Lies
  • A Little Lower than the Angels

Geraldine McCaughrean is a prolific writer! She has also written retellings of myths, legends and classic for children, and plays and fiction for adults. Altogether, she has written over 160 books and plays!

If you liked this…

If you enjoyed this Where the World Ends Geraldine McCaughrean review, check out our other reviews and recommendations of children’s and YA books, and find out about a great historical fiction for grown-ups, The History of Bees, here.

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Angela is the kind of parent who wants to discuss the latest hero movie or middle-grade book series on the school run. She grew up on the Lord of the Rings books and has a background in education & publishing. She believes all children & young people can enjoy wonderful story-telling and loves sharing ideas with others.


I just recently started liking Historical Fiction (thank you The Orphan Train), so I am looking forward to checking this book out! Great review!


    Thanks, I hope you enjoy it! I will have to check out The Orphan Train!

Jenn @ Bound to Writing

Great review! This sounds like an action-packed book for young readers.


    Thank you, it is fantastic!

Sarah Nowicki

Sounds really interesting and may be perfect for a teenager I know who really likes historical fiction. I’ll have to pass it along. Thanks for sharing.


    Great, I hope that like it!

DJ Sakata

This is new to me, you have plucked at my curiosity – thanx for the info


    Thank you, it is a fascinating book, really unique I thought!


This sounds interesting. I would be drawn to the cover as it is so mysterious. I am pleased that they did put an age guidance in the book as I feel strongly that this should be common practice. When he is a few years older, I will suggest this read to my eldest grandson.


    Yes, the cover art is beautiful, so evocative! It is an interesting one for the age range as it is not as “mature” content as many YA books can be (i.e. there are no sexual scenes and no brutal violence), but it would definitely suit older children of 12+, rather than 8 or 9.


My daughter might like it



Veronica @The Burgeoning Bookshelf

Love Historical Fiction written at a Young Adult/ Middle Grade level. It’s a much more interesting way for children to learn about History.


    I agree, this book revealed an incident that not many people will have known about, and it was also fascinating in helping develop an understanding of life in that location at that time!

Amanda McGill

Great review!


    Thank you

Vidya Tiru

like you, i love reading children’s books and end up reviewing them mainly on my blog 🙂 though i do mean to read and review more of other books too.. 🙂
the book today sounds like a good read – i love where historical events meet fiction


    Sounds perfect for you! If you like historical fiction, this is a great read!

Robin Taylor

Now this does indeed sound very interesting.


    Thank you Robin, I’d definitely recommend it!

Katiria Rodriguez

Ohh great review, this is the first time I have heard about this book and it looks and sounds absolutely amazing. I really need to read more middle grade books because I really do enjoy reading them, thank you so much for sharing your awesome post and for putting this book on my radar.


    Thank you Katiria, there are so many great middle-grade books out there to read!

Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

I feel like there’s a growing trend lately towards really well-researched fiction inspired by true event/s and/or settings, for all age groups (Burial Rites, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz are two adult ones that come to mind), which I love – it sort of frees the writer (and the reader!) from this mental filter of searching for the truth and upholding almost journalistic standards, and lets them tell the story as it could have been or as they imagine it – which always makes for really evocative and passionate writing. This one sounds great, for a variety of ages – thank you for sharing!! (and that COVER ART – oh my goodness!)


    Thanks Sheree, I absolutely agree, this is a great trend!

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