(Noughts and Crosses #1)
by Malorie Blackman
Genre: YA, dystopia, romance
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?
This is a classic dystopia before aliens and super powers became all the rage. It takes our own society and history and turns it around, making white people the inferior race. It is a very effective tactic for revealing the underlying racism in the world nowadays and the harmful effects these attitudes have had on people subjected to it.
“I used to comfort myself with the belief that it was only certain individuals and their peculiar notions that spoilt things for the rest of us. But how many individuals does it take before it’s not the individuals who are prejudiced but society itself?”
Callum is a smart boy who clings to the fragile hope of change Crosses propagate in order to fix their PR image. The shattering effect once the blinders are off is just heartbreaking. He is too young at the time to deal with the situation in a constructive way, or to heal his fracturing family, to stay strong when one tragedy after another pushes him further away from whom he is inside. It is this dissolution of family ties and self that hit me the hardest; the moment when the larger social conflict showed its destructive powers on a micro level.
“D’you ever wonder what it would be like if our positions were reversed?’ I ask. At Jack’s puzzled look I continue. ‘If we whites were in charge instead of you Crosses?’
‘Can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind,’ Jack shrugs.
‘I used to think about it a lot,’ I sigh. ‘Dreams of living in a world with no more discrimination, no more prejudice, a fair police force, an equal justice system, equality of education, equality of life, a level playing field…”
Sephy annoyed me for the longest period of all but when we have so many horrible side characters you kind of put up with her own form of blindness and helplessness. She may belong to a powerful family but they behave like strangers and antagonists than anything resembling a healthy family. She can’t help but be a victim of its own brand of hate, power-play, and toxic environment. She wishes to believe the best of her father and mother, not realising they are the enemies to her friendship with Callum. I was so disappointed with her a number of times and only when she finally woke up and started to make a change in her life did I forgive her all the stupid things she did before out of her misguided ideals. Maybe she redeemed herself at the end of the book, but I still think Callum was better off without her.
“You’re a Nought and I’m a Cross and there’s nowhere for us to be, nowhere for us to go where we’d be left in peace…That’s why I started crying. That’s why I couldn’t stop. For all the things we might’ve had and all the things we’re never going to have.”
The Liberation Militia the noughts formed as a part of their resistance fits in with the Muslim terrorists nowadays since they employ the same tactics. They may say they are fighting against racism or for their rights, but the tactics themselves discredit them in the eyes of the majority of people, noughts included. Yet when faced with the utter hopelessness of the situation, the repression, and blatant injustices, I can very well understand how some would choose this type of response, even if it is very misguided and destructive. They themselves are just as bigoted and repressive as the system. Once you’re in you can’t get out? Please – that is no way to form a resistance and offer it to the people as a viable choice.
“But the Good Book said a lot of things. Like ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘ do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. If nothing else, wasn’t the message of the Good Book to live and let live? So how could the Crosses call themselves ‘God’s chosen’ and still treat us the way they did?”
That said; I felt the romance kind of cheapened everything because it made little sense to me. It is the classic Romeo and Juliet scenario, only the Juliet here is even more annoying. I’m sorry for all people who absolutely adore the book and the pairing, but I just couldn’t buy it. It’s still a great book just not a brilliant one. It would have been equally effective if our protagonists Sephy and Callum were just friends. They did not need to fall in love to make us care about the world they lived in.
It was especially galling that in the end nothing changed for all the grand gestures they tried to make. Did they even have an alternative option? No. This is not a fairy tale – in fact you know or sense from the very start that there’s no bright light at the end of the tunnel. Both sides are firmly entrenched on opposing ends, both victims of a system put up in the past. Noughts and Crosses police themselves and anyone trying to change things is punished for it in one way or the other. Perhaps the sequels move the fight for equality further along, but I sincerely doubt it. This is one of the darkest dystopias, almost on the level of 1984. Maybe that is why romance is put into the very centre of it, to make up for the bleak and hopeless situation in order to not utterly depress the reader.
“Noughts… Even the word was negative. Nothing. Nil. Zero. Nonentities. It wasn’t a name we’d chosen for ourselves. It was a name we’d been given.”