Noughts and Crosses is the first book in Malorie Blackman’s alternate reality, young adult series where black people, called Crosses, rule over white people who are called Noughts.
I first read the book back in Year 7 at school but as it had been quite a while I decided to re-read it, especially as the BBC have since made it into a TV series though I haven’t watched the adaptation yet and wanted to give it a re-read.
The book begins with a prologue where we are introduced to the main characters. Persephone Hadley, known as Sephy, is a cross and the daughter of Kamal Hadley, a high ranking politician and Callum McGregor is a white Nought. His mother, Meggie McGregor is employed as a nanny and servant by Sephy’s mother for her and her sister Minerva. However, Sephy and Connor are best friends and so the two play together. When Meggie doesn’t provide an alibi for Persephone’s mother to cover for her affair she is fired.
Three years later and we discover Connor and Sephy have maintained their friendship in secret and Sephy has helped Connor to get into her school, Heathcroft which is Cross-only. However when he arrives for the first day a riot breaks out outside as the Crosses do not want the Nought there. Though Sephy does try to break down the barriers it mostly causes more trouble.
At the same time, Connor’s brother Jude and father Ryan have both joined the Liberation Militia, a violent paramilitary association against Cross supremacy. As events unfold, can Sephy and Connor maintain their friendship in the face of such adversity or will Connor be drawn into the violence that his brother and father partake in?….
Overall this book is simply amazing and timely in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white man reading the novel, it is very thought-provoking to read a book which is a role reversal of race in society as Blackman asks us throughout the book to walk a mile in someone’s shoes and presents to us what many black people experience today.
In Blackman’s foreword, she mentions that quite a few experiences which Callum has she experienced herself, for instance the overzealous way the Cross policeman questions Callum when he is on the train in first class with Sephy, an experience Blackman herself encountered when she was challenged for being in the first-class carriage on the train, or in Heathcroft school where Callum has to sit through a history lesson which has wiped out the achievements of Noughts.
Also the racial slurs the crosses uses for noughts, calling them “blankers” to suggest they have no intelligence.
The book also has lessons about class divide and the barriers we put up between ourselves. As a human race, we all have prejudices as part of our brains way of processing and categorising the world yet these same prejudices are what causes the hate in our world and in the world of Noughts and Crosses. The title of the novel itself shows two distinct groups and the book shows how if anyone tries to break down these divides, for instance when Sephy tries to befriend the Noughts in the canteen it ends up escalating the situation.
The book also has a clear moral message on violence and especially using violence as a form of retaliation to get what you want as in many ways the violence within the novel causes things to escalate further and further before the devastating conclusion.
It is a fantastic book and a great young adult series I would recommend everyone reads. My version of the book did also contain An Eye For An Eye, which is a short story and continuation of the book which I will write about in a separate post (spoilers for Noughts and Crosses!) here.
If you have read this book then I would love to hear from you in the comments below!