Where the World Ends

Written by Geraldine McCaughrean
Review by Marion Rose

Based on a real event, this is a story that sings to the soul. It belongs—in shoals—in every school and library. By the glimmer of a fulmar lamp, it gives a rare insight into the hardship of ordinary lives in the early 1700s.

Off the coast of Scotland, a boatload of boys and three men are dropped on a remote sea stac. They are fowlers. Their job is to climb the sheer cliffs and hunt birds. The work is unimaginably risky and hard. For 15 hours a day, all are busy: netting, strangling, plucking, storing bird oil in the stomachs of gannets, mending horsehair ropes. The boys are so tired they sleep as they pause on ledges and have to be woken before they fall to their deaths. But it’s only for three weeks. Except… their boat does not return.

Geraldine MacCaughrean skilfully weaves many layers of story into one rustic plaid. There is the quite extraordinary adventure of children living through a Scottish winter on a sea-swept rock. There’s the ever-present mystery of the absent boat, and what is happening on the treeless island that is home? Powerful drama unfolds as men and youngsters are tested by their own limits and each other’s. Then there is Quill, a talented storyteller whose yarns play a crucial part in the heads and hearts of the castaways. And underpinning all is a very original story of young love, sought and lost, that threads through the pages from start to finish.

This is stark, beautiful story-making for over-12s. If forced to find a gripe, it is that the title may evaporate from the mind like sea mist – so mark it well. It has just won the 2018 Carnegie Medal and is everything a magnificent read should be.