Title: Noughts and Crosses
Author: Malorie Blackman
Wow. I’m all for hard-hitting, challenging stories, but this takes the prize for leaving me breathless and traumatised – and it is brilliantly done. In her introduction, the author describes her ‘desire to tackle the subject of racism head on’ by putting her characters through humiliating situations that she had experienced herself as a black teenager. Personal experience and anger at ‘the artificial divides we always seem to put between ourselves and others’ gives this book a raw, realistic feel, and the clever flipping of the black/white power balance allows racist ideas to be challenged, free from readers’ preexisting assumptions.
The narrative is split between two main characters, with alternating Point of View chapters. Thirteen-year-old Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class – and her fifteen-year-old best friend Callum is a Nought – a member of the pale-skinned underclass. Noughts were once kept as slaves by Crosses, and society is still stacked against its pale-skinned members. Schooling is segregated, and very few Noughts achieve a high level of education, or well-paid jobs. The growing relationship between Sephy and Callum provokes resentment from their families, and from the people around them. The plot makes some shocking twists, while staying true to the characters and the setting, and by the end I was angry, upset, and thoroughly invested in the outcome of the story. It took me a while to fully sympathise with both main characters, but when the plot grabbed me, I couldn’t put the book down.
It is very hard to say anything else without giving away spoilers – and trust me, this is a story you don’t want to spoil. It’s a book that makes the reader question their own invisible prejudices, while following the characters through some tough decisions, and eventually shouting at the words on the page. It is an important story, accessibly told, that will stay with me long after the book goes back on the shelf. Very highly recommended.
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Review cross-posted to GoodReads.
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