book review

Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman|| Book Review

This post is a little shorter than I would like, especially as I didn’t post last week, but life is a little crazy right now.

If you’ve been following my Instagram story, you might have seen the state of my living room. I move flats in 3 days and I’ve been prepping for that for the past couple of weeks. I still have stuff left to do but I’m so excited! On top of that, I’ve been working as usual and planning for a new blog which may appear soon. Oh, and I woke up with a cold and currently can’t hear properly!!

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Genre: Children’s Fiction, Young Adult, Modern Classic

Rating: ★★★

The Blurb

CALLUM is a NOUGHT – an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black CROSSES.

SEPHY is a CROSS – and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country.

In the their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. But when Sephy and Cllum’s childhood friendship gwos into passionate love, they’re determined to find a way to be together.

AND THEN THE BOMB EXPLODES…

My Thoughts

So this is pretty much a modern classic by now, but strangely something I had never read before now. I’m certainly not the target age group for this novel – with no swearing and a simplistic writing style it is obvious that the true age group this is aimed at is the younger end of the Young Adult scale, and it works very well.

The premise of the novel is well known by now and the subject of many novels since – class inequality. We see it in The Hunger Games and it’s a topic that Young Adult writers tend to address in a very smart and impactful way, from my personal reading experience. But Blackman flips normality on its head, simply by changing the skin colour of the dominant class. As a white, middle class and educated European, I’m the first to admit that this was something I was not used to picturing straight away. It’s well known that because of the images of white supremacy that we as a society are surrounded by on a day to day basis, we are more likely to picture a dominant class as white, not black, and it was a challenge to myself as a reader to change this, but something I really appreciated. I think by doing this, Blackman has managed to emphasise how the reader both can and cannot relate to this topic – the battle of the races becomes almost uncanny.

The novel begins with our two main characters as nothing more than children – Sephy is around 12 and Callum 16. There are flashbacks to their early childhood and their mother’s relationships, giving glimpses of how exactly Callum’s family came to hate Sephy’s so much. We see the children playing together with no knowledge of class, gender or race identity, and this is a poignant image to have at the start of a novel so closely focussed on racial tensions. We then see how Callum and Sephy’s relationship changes – as their mothers come to resent each other, and Callum’s mother is fired from her position as servant to Sephy’s mother – they become secretive, meeting on Sephy’s private beach, away from prying eyes. This happens from their childhood and is an image and site that appears regularly in this novel. The beach itself is meant to be a safe place, away from the world, but ultimately it is owned by the superior black race and the impression is given that Callum is aware of this at all times, which makes it more poignant when he later uses this place as an area to lure Sephy to before taking her hostage with some of the Liberation Militia – a delinquent group of whites that he is associated with.

Callum and Sephy, for a number of reasons, are ultimately separated in this novel and spend  their formative years apart. These years are brushed over in the novel, and I’m glad because I think reading them may have been tedious. The reader does learn that they both ultimately have a similar goal that has been created through their teenage years – to change the inequality experienced between the Noughts and Crosses of society.

Sephy wants to become a lawyer and help those in need, Callum meanwhile rebels against the system, disappears from society and becomes involved in the dangerous Liberation Militia. His brother and father are also involved in this, and we see key moments  revolving around their uprising, particularly as Callum’s dad is sentenced to hang because of his involvement with the group.

It’s hard to go into a full breakdown of this novel, because whilst there are some very important moments and scenes, as an older reader, I find it hard to recall something particularly powerful later in the novel. The moments that interested me most were potentially the interactions within the school earlier on in the story.

Callum has managed to earn himself a place in the public schooling system – something that, until now, had been purely reserved for Crosses only. Callum joins Sephy’s school year along with 4 other Noughts, even though they are older. But during this time they experience some serious images of discrimination. As they arrive for their first day, there are parents outside the school threatening them and campaigning against their right to an education. The message behind this, for me, is how some of the older generations within any and every society force their own archaic beliefs upon the next generation and stagnate progress whilst encouraging discrimination and violence. Sephy begins to stand up for Callum and the other Noughts at this point, though Blackman also focuses on the importance of language by looking at the terminology used to refer to other classes and how this is derogatory, even in her attempts to side with them. The restrictive generation gap is again later seen as Sephy sits with Callum and the noughts during lunch in order to make a stand. Sephy is later punished for this action by her school headmaster, being told that Crosses must not mix with the inferior Noughts.

This novel is certainly an important examination of class and race for the younger generation and has arguably led the way in the Young Adult genre of fiction. I can see why this novel is even studied in schools and think, with the opportunity, there are many talking points that could be examined. I’m interested as to how this would read alongside the rest of the series, especially as this ended on a cliff hanger. However, at my current age and place in life, I did find the read somewhat tedious and draining. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, and consequentially I’m changing up my genres for the foreseeable future. Overall, I enjoyed the read but would recommend it to younger readers.

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