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Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean - Review

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

I got this book as part of a Secret Santa I did. It had been on my wishlist for ages, but I can't remember why I added it. But I was intrigued by the story, and I always like to read the books I got for Christmas early into the new year - or at least try to - so I picked this up in early February. It's a middle grade book, suitable for kids aged 10 and upwards, in my opinion. 

So I do know about the St Kilda archipelago in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. I know that while the islands are abandoned now, there used to be families on the biggest island, Hirta. And every year the island would send men and boys to the Stac, where they would catch gannets, called gugas in Gaelic, and other birds, some of which could be used as fuel. The workers would spend about four weeks there, stocking up for the islanders, and then the boat would return to pick them up. I know this because for my book club we read a book called The Black House, which is a crime novel which uses a fictional version of the Stac, in much more recent times, as its setting. When I read that I was looking up the island. It was abandoned in 1930, but prior to that the gannet hunting had really happened.

So this book is set in 1727. In early August, Quilliam and eight other boys, plus three men, are taken on a boat to Warrior Stac. Quilliam is one of the older boys and he's done this before. He is there with his friend, Murdo. He is also obsessed with a girl called Murdina back on Hirta, and speaks to her frequently in his head when he is on the Stac. Some of the other boys are really quite young, like Davie. There's also Kenneth, who is a terrible bully. Quilliam becomes King Gannet, because he catches the first one. The men and boys start catching all the birds they can, putting them into structures called cleits for safe keeping. They're expecting to be picked up a few weeks later, by the end of August, only no boat turns up. 

To begin with, they think this must surely be some kind of mistake. They keep holding on hope. But then bad omens appear. And Euan has a vision that everyone else has been Raptured, but that God has forgotten them on the Stac. And while the three men basically start off fine, Col Cane, who is the sexton back on Hirta, starts to become more religious and escapes to one of the Bothys. Quilliam becomes Keeper of Stories and bestows other Keeper jobs on the other boys. They're cold as autumn comes in and then winter. They're hungry and have no fuel. And surely, surely they haven't been forgotten?

I kept thinking they must be rescued by the end of the book. But the ending blew me away because it included something that really happened that I didn't know - I'm glad I didn't know it because it would have ruined the ending! I really liked this book, it's brilliant middle grade. I'm giving it four out of five. 

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