Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a dramatic, gripping and heart-breaking story that turns history on its head, and pinpoints racism and injustice in such a telling way.
This thought-provoking story is set in an alternative universe, where people of color called “Crosses” are the dominant rulers, with “Noughts”, people of European origin, as a despised underclass excluded from the best schools and work, even seen as nothing or “Blankers”. The story follows teenagers Sephy (a Cross) and Callum (a Nought) as their childhood friendship turns into a forbidden love with all the attendant difficulties that a racially divided world presents. The narrative switches between the two perspectives as they both try to make sense of the world they live in.
The story is so dramatic, gripping, emotional, shocking and tragic. There are many moments of happiness between Callum and Sephy, but there are also so many dangerous events occurring against a rising tide of Nought militarism and so many things happening to them that are just heart-breaking. The characters are so realistic and complex, with flaws and likeable and less likeable traits. I immediately rooted for Callum and his wish to change the world, whereas still being realistic about the limitations and risk for violence when challenging the current order. Sephy irritated me at times for being so childish and naïve, even though she tries her best to see Callum’s perspective. What I really liked about them both was how fair and unprejudiced they were, despite the values they’d been raised with and the judgement and bias they’d been surrounded by all their lives.
(On a side note, the book has been adapted for the screen in an HBO series that I actually think is better than the book in certain aspects, especially when it comes to Sephy. In the series she is much more likable and the role of her parents are better portraited. The love story between Sephy and Callum also makes much more sense as they are older when they really fall for each other and more aware of the consequences. On the other hand, the book provides more background to Sephy’s and Callum’s friendship, which I really enjoyed.)
All in all, Noughts & Crosses is a well written, unique and powerful story that really makes you think. I can’t wait to continue the whole series, especially after the very unexpected ending!
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