#61. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Noughts and Crosses is the first book of five by English author Malorie Blackman. It is written in a first person viewpoint of the protagonists, alternating between the two, Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor. Society is split in two by a racial hierarchy: the black, dominating and ruling upper class Crosses and the white, subservient subhuman lower class noughts (never with a capital “n”). Sephy is a Cross, and Callum is a nought, echoing Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, and just like Romeo and Juliet, it is a story about love encased in violence.
The book was chosen due to its appearance on the 2011 BBC Top 100 Books List. I confess that I knew nothing about Malorie Blackman when I picked up the book, and thought that the “racist” attitudes and propaganda in the book were broader than the limited “black and white” theme that has plagued our society. Perhaps it’s due to having experienced racism for my skin color, and witnessing more aspects of racism where the victims were not black led me to this opinion. Discrimination against Native Americans, against other religions, against political party members, sexism… predominantly in my experience. I therefore was forming a much broader opinion based on more recent discrimination in the world, as those mentioned above. Only once I read about the author did it clear up where her focus was. Blackman’s story flipflops what our society is groomed to expect. Slavery has ended, but the conditions for the noughts are still deplorable. Reflective of the southern blacks? Or reflective of Jews pre-WWII? Native Americans in the United States from the 1800’s on? The Kurds in Iraq? The Pagans of Europe? Blackman is careful to point out that when you’re the majority, you don’t necessarily see what is going on. By turning the tables, she felt she was opening up eyes. It was definitely effective in presenting distressing and sometimes disturbing acts of discrimination, injustice, and consequential violence. It forces the reader to be more scrutinizing about the questions surrounding color, class and social injustice that runs rampant in our world today. Blackman stated that for years she had resisted writing about racism. Due to the containment of terrorist acts, Blackman couldn’t find a single American publisher willing to take on the book. Soon after 9/11, it was published in the UK. Terrorist activity takes the forefront, as Callum and other noughts feel that violence is the only route left for them to take to change the situation.
A series of events lead each character to develop as their personality dictates. Both Sephy and Callum fight the racism in their own way. One uses violence and the other pursues it through non-violent means. Many noughts turn to the Liberation Militia, an activist group that feel that violence is the only way for noughts to escape their positions in life. Ultimately, the McGregor family is decimated due to the path of violence they take through the Liberation Militia. The noughts use the slanderous term “daggers” for the Crosses, and the Crosses use the denigrating term “blankers”, meaning blanks, zeroes, nothings, “a waste of space”, for the noughts. Life is hard enough growing up in our world. Add the extra complications of their world and it becomes next to impossible to accomplish their goal of remaining friends, and later, of being together as lovers. Sephy makes a few poorly-thought out and costly blunders along the way in the name of love, but her young age and the consequential immaturity hinders her foresight. She sets out with the mindset to show that she is not afraid to be friends with a nought, and it inadvertently backfires. Callum, on the other hand, has endured a more consequential upbringing and is more reserved in his actions.
This book is on the reading list for 14-16 year-olds in UK High School. I don’t think this book is quite appropriate for children younger than that, considering the level of violence and subject matter. Racism and equality are not common topics for Young Adult books.
This book has received the following credit and awards:
#61 on the BBC 2003 Big Read and the Top 100 Books List of 2011
Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year – 2002
Red House Children’s Book Award – 2002
Sheffield Children’s Book Award – 2002
Wirral Paperpack of the Year Award – 2003
Fantastic Fiction Award – 2004
Berkshire Book Award (shortlist) – 2005
Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year (shortlist) – 2005
Redbridge Teenage Book Award (shortlist) – 2005
Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year (shortlist) – 2006
Staffordshire Young People’s Book of the Year – 2006
The Noughts and Crosses Series
1. Noughts and Crosses
2. An Eye For an Eye
3. Knife Edge
5. Double Cross