Review: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

24 December, 2013 Reviews 16 comments

Review: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie BlackmanNoughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Series: Noughts and Crosses #1
Published by Corgi Childrens on August 8th 2006
Pages: 479
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.

Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

In this gripping, stimulating and totally absorbing novel, black and white are right and wrong.

From Goodreads

Having now experienced the thing that is Noughts and Crosses, it is incredible to me that very few people in the US seem to have heard of, let alone read, this book. I’m not judging you, this was me up until Ellis decided this state of affairs was unacceptable and sent it to me for Christmas. I honestly don’t know whether I want to hug her with joy and gratitude or hug her because I need support while I weep because HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS, THIS BOOK BLEW ME AWAY.

I haven’t been this in love and simultaneously traumatized since I read the Newsflesh books. I almost don’t want to recommend this to you because it hurts. Bad. (That’s a complete lie, I am absolutely recommending it with all the enthusiasm I posses, it is magnificent.)

First, let me tell you about my feelings, of which there were many.

The story opens and I was kind of like this:

This is a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation.

Then you meet Callum and Sephy and I was all:


Things start to go down and I found myself wondering:

Why are you making us feel these things.

And more things go down:


And more:

Tears of unfathomable sadness.

And more and more and more:

I just want it to stop.

And then I got to the end:

rocking and crying

And did this:

drinking and crying

And a week later I’m still like:

My heart hurts.

It’s funny, given the premise, how little Noughts and Crosses is about race. In fact, Blackman intentionally avoids talking about skin color as much as possible. It’s about being brave and fighting for what you believe in, the destructive potential of people, the absurdity of the social constructs we set up and the damage that comes from this cocktail of volatile elements. Don’t go into this book expecting Blackman to be making a stand on any particular issue, she is, but not really. She does something more valuable than that by pointing out a variety of things about race, class and, to a lesser extent, gender and then stepping back, forcing the reader to think for themselves (one of my favorite of all writerly moves).

“If you’re the majority you don’t necessarily see it because you don’t need to see it and that’s what I wanted to explore by turning the tables.” (Malorie Blackman quote, not from the book, but from this really awesome article that I want to link you to but SPOILERS. Read the book so I can share it with you.)

Noughts and Crosses definitely simplifies a complex series of issues, (in this world there are only two races and you never see an example of what the middle class is really up to, among other things) but by doing so it hones the story into a sharp, poignant message about what happens when you live in a world ruled by distrust, hatred and fear. You become incapable of seeing the good things. Suspicion clouds your vision, you assume the worst. Everything spirals out of control, becoming bigger and more meaningful than it should’ve in the first place.

All our lives criss-crossing but never really touching. A world full of strangers living with all that fear. Nothing was a given any more. Not my life. Not theirs. Nothing.

Callum and Sephy’s relationship is so complicated. They’re constantly at odds with each other, Callum hates what Sephy represents but recognizes Sephy as an individual isn’t the same as what she represents and Sephy wants to change things and feels guilty for her privilege but also occasionally resents feeling guilty for simply being who she is. Despite all of that, they are both ultimately trying to find a way to love each other in a world that is determined that they won’t, it’s tragic and it broke my heart into a million pieces.

As characters, they are just as complicated as their relationship. Sephy is both endearing and frustratingly naive. Her heart is in the right place and she’s learning some awfully harsh life lessons lessons but screwing things up a fair amount as she goes. Callum is the same in his own way, enraged by a society that wants to grind him down into nothing, he’s faced with a horrible set of options and like any person, doesn’t always do the right thing (sometimes he does the very wrong thing, in fact).

This book is deep and it is dark. There are no good answers here, no easy solutions. Good people do messed up thing things, messed up things things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Life is not fair and everything hurts. (Sounds like an awesome read right? It is.) It’s amazing and terrible. It’s the entire spectrum of things.

I loved Noughts and Crosses as I was reading it and have only come to love it more since finishing. It’s one of those books that stay with you, making you think and maybe occasionally cry a little when a sad song unexpectedly comes on while you’re revisiting a particularly heart wrenching scene. I’ve given this book 5 stars because that’s the highest I can rate it, but would give it an entire galaxy if I could. Read it please, read it now.

Meg Morley

Meg Morley

Co-bloggery at Cuddlebuggery
Meg is an all-around book nerd who just really wants to talk about books, preferably with other people but by herself will do. Find her on Goodreads.

16 Responses to “Review: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman”

  1. Sunny

    You’re right, this book is seriously underrated because I haven’t even HEARD of it before. By the cover, I didn’t think it would be my type, but after reading the synopsis and your reviews (those gifs, I love your gifs!), I definitely need to read this asap. Great review, I WANT.

    • Meg Morley

      MY WORK HERE IS DONE. Seriously though, I know what you mean. Ellis mentioned it and I was all ‘Malorie who? what?’ HOWEVER, Noughts and Crosses is amazing and needs to be read, I’m glad I put it on your radar.

    • Meg Morley

      YESSSSS!! I AM proud. Please read it, tell your friends. We’ll all group hug when you’re done 🙂

  2. Amber @ Books of Amber

    I read this book when I was about twelve, and I remember very little of it, but it had a huge impact on me. I want to do a reread in 2014, and hopefully encourage everyone to read it, because it is severely underrated! I love this review, and oh my god, the gifs! That was me.

    “There are no good answers here, no easy solutions.”


    • Meg Morley

      DO A REREAD! Get Ellis on your side, she is convincing people right and left to pick it up. I’ll join in and together we will strong arm the entire internet into doing it (dream big, you know? we should go for the whole thing). Glad you like the gifs 🙂

  3. Angie F.

    I had heard of this book, but never gave it much thought. Now, I think I need to read it. I love emotionally devastating books, and this seems like a great one.

  4. Ellis

    Meg Meg Meg, I know I’ve said it before (probably on every platform possible) but your review is so perfect that it makes me jealous. It is funny, but also serious and then the series of gifs that run through ALL THE EMOTIONS (JUST LIKE the book, so WELL DONE). Hahaha, the one about the unsatisfactory situation, is that about the prologue? I have to admit, that part always feels a little out of place. It’s one of the instances where Blackman is almost too suggestive, which doesn’t quite fit with the tone of the rest of the novel.

    YES. I completely agree that race doesn’t take the foreground here, even though it is traditionally marketed as the major topic of this series. There’s a reason she titled it Noughts & Crosses and not Black & White *side-eyes ridiculous title change* She mentions in one of the interviews that she feels a certain pressure to write about race because she is a black woman, while she’d much rather just write stories about POCs without making it their defining feature. WHICH IS A GOOD THING, but apparently people expect her to make big statements about race in all her books and she doesn’t like it. I feel you, Malorie.

    Noughts & Crosses definitely is too simplistic when it comes to race and social class, dividing societies into polar extremes with barely any middle ground. There is more nuance in that respect in the sequels because characters with dual heritage come into play (just look at my subtleosity skills). I think you could in a way “excuse” the simplistic attitude towards diversity (for lack of a better word) because the story is told through the very limited world views of Callum and Sephy. I also have questions regarding the combination of the race split and the Pangaea formation of Earth. It’s obviously a what-if scenario because I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for that.

    Callum and Sephy’s relationship… I don’t know what to make of it. I ship them like whoa, but it’s so complicated. I mean, there seem to be four people in that relationship: Sephy, Callum, the Cross and the nought. (I also noticed that Blackman doesn’t capitalise “nought”. I though that was rather clever.) But you know I was a fan the moment they kissed and she thought it was gross but she kinda liked it and then she got jealous. So sad they went from adorable to tragic so fast, though I don’t think there would have been any other outcome to their story. Well, she proved that with the short story/alternative scenario, which was just PURE EVIL. PURE EVIL, MALORIE.

    “I loved Noughts and Crosses as I was reading it and have only come to love it more since finishing. It’s one of those books that stay with you, making you think and maybe occasionally cry a little when a sad song unexpectedly comes on while you’re revisiting a particularly heart wrenching scene.”

    OMG YES. See, I have this fantasy… It is rather kinky… When I get a serious boyfriend (and the seriousness of our relationship might depend on his reading this book. It just might. Because I’m laid-back like that.) I will make him read Noughts & Crosses. He will listen to me because reasons. Then he will cry and ask me why and I won’t be able to give a fulfilling answer because DUDE, I’VE BEEN THERE. It will satisfy me that I have broken my boyfriend and I will gladly console him. Then, as the best girlfriend ever, I’ll tweet about it, because when something like that happens, you just tweet it. The above is probably the reason for my singleness. Possibly. Maybe. Tentatively.

    Anywaaaay. I’m so glad it traumatised you. Keep the pusher campaign going! I totally ended up as the dean rocking back and forth, no matter how many times I read the novels. Sequels should reach you soon and I’m SO CURIOUS to see how they’ll affect you. Especially Knife Edge. Knife Edge is so weird. Oh, and thank you for linking me! That’s so sweet and you really didn’t have to! Now go snuggle some puppies or books. PUPPYBOOKS. BOOKPUPPIES.

  5. Kano.F

    This book was the first ya book I read and I’ve reread it numerous times, I’m from the UK so I guess that’s the reason I read it so early on. But a few years after I first read noughts and crosses, Twilight came out and it hurt me to think that such an amazing book didn’t get a chance to become a movie but twilight did (I still gripe about it to this day). No matter this is still my all time favourite book, that ending has me in tears every time I read it, a testament to how powerful it is.

  6. Denai

    I read this years ago and it still remains one of my all time favourite books, of all time. I can re-read it many times and will always cry like a baby in the last part of the book.
    It is fantastic and your review makes me want to ignore my statistics homework and read it again… But my husband won’t let me.

  7. Reading Outside the Box | Gun In Act One

    […] Diversity in YA is a website that celebrates “young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability.” They’ve got a number of book lists archived here. Noughts & Crosses is one book that jumped out at me, especially because I remembered reading a review of it here. […]

  8. Evie Favager

    “I’ve given this book 5 stars because that’s the highest I can rate it, but would give it an entire galaxy if I could.”
    That is only too correct! I just finished this book as a school project, and I’m so glad my teacher set this particular book, as I’d never have read it otherwise. A few friends had read it, but I never really put much thought into it. It wasn’t what I usually read, but I’m so glad I was forced out of my comfort zone to have my heart destroyed by the book. As you said, it tore me apart, and I thank it.

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