Friday, 19 February 2016

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Dystopia 4)

**This book was included on 
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**

Publication date: 15th January 2001
Published by: Corgi
Genre: Sci-Fi/Dystopia (YA)

Publisher's synopsis
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?

My Review
This novel has been on my 'to read' pile for quite some time.  It has won quite a few awards in the UK and the author, Malorie Blackman, has an OBE and is the current Children's Laureate (2013-2015) - all rightly deserved in my opinion.

What I liked about it

Noughts and Crosses is a very compelling read. I was absolutely hooked from start to finish. Although it reads like a book for teenagers, the subject matter is such that it transcends easily to adult readers.

It is proper dystopia and, as such, is a rather tough read in places. Without wishing to give anything crucial away, I would say that I am glad the central story played out the way it did and with the outcome it did because, although it may be fiction, it is known that similar events have occurred in reality, and not that long ago.  Examples would be South Africa during the apatheid years, and the USA during the time of racial segregation - when the KKK actually had power and influence. Malorie Blackman has stayed true to what is real, rather than sugar coating the truth.

What I liked most was the way the very first scene of the book contrasts with the events that occur thereafter.  It is extremely powerful.

Room for improvement?
I found that, with the exception of Callum and Sephy, the characters were either on one side of the fence or the other, whereas, I think there would have been value in demonstrating some balance.  For example, having characters who were Crosses (the ruling class) who were sympathetic towards and supportive of the Noughts (the oppressed underclass). Sephy eludes to the existance of others at her boarding school (but their solution is to wait for the ruling generation to grow old and die before they step in and make changes!).  I think there would have been value in having prominant sympathetic Crosses pushing for change - even if they failed to make progress. It is important because if this imbalance were a reality Hitler and the Nazis probably would have won WWII, racial segregation in the US and apatheid in SA would still be a thing of the present.  We know that the wonderful thing about humanity is that there are good, honorable people present in all races - incredibly brave people willing to give their lives to stand against rascism or religous fanaticism, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.  So why aren't they represented in this book?

What I took issue with
Some parts read like the literary equivalent of melodrama.  By that I mean overly dramatic dialogue while you practically hear violins in the background; all because Malorie Blackman is determined to make you cry!  I felt my emotions were being manipulated, something I dislike intensely. (e.g. Lynette's story). Sally Green's Half Bad covers a similar topic and is equally hard-hitting - but absent of emotional manipulation.

My verdict
Despite what I consider to be it's flaws, I would say Noughts and Crosses is an essential read because it goes some way in demonstrating exactly why racism is bad and must not be tolerated. Right now around the globe there seems to be an escalation in hatred towards anyone 'different'.  May this book be a cautionary tale for young adults.

I would be cautious about the reading age for this book.  I don't think my 13-year old self would have coped very well with it, but I think my 15-year old self would have handled it just fine.


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