Series: Noughts and Crosses #1
Published by Corgi Childrens on August 8th 2006
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
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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.
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:
Then you meet Callum and Sephy and I was all:
Things start to go down and I found myself wondering:
And more things go down:
And more and more and more:
And then I got to the end:
And did this:
And a week later I’m still like:
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.