Review: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
British author Malorie Blackman paints a bleak but oh-so-educational picture in this YA dystopian. Set in a world that is not unlike the early 21st century, it tells the story of a world divided into two classes based purely upon skin colour. The dark skinned elite, or ruling class, are known as Crosses. The light skinned underclass are known as Noughts. And in there world, mixing is unthinkable. So what happens when Stephy, a Cross teenager from a privileged background falls in love with Callum, a Nought who is fighting hard for his right to an education?
What a revelation this book proved to be! What could have easily veered into the territory of a fluffy YA romance is instead handled cleverly and believably by an author who uses the predicament of her characters to steer the reader toward something far more compelling. The world depicted in this book is cruel and unfair, and no, it doesn't change just because the main characters want it too. Instead, the author depicts them as human beings struggling to make their way through an unjust world, where one well-intentioned word or gesture won't start a revolution, but it might just have repercussions, some of them good, many of them bad. The reader sees Sephy punished for her saviour complex, and often, and not always by the characters you would expect.
The backstories of both of the characters are handled well--Sephy's father is an important politician, her mother is an alcoholic who is struggling to come to terms with her life and past decisions. Meanwhile, Callum comes from a poor family. His mother is a hardworking woman, his sister has suffered a nervous breakdown, and his brother and father are members of a rebel group, who have resorted to violence in an effort to get their point across to the government. At times there are interesting parallels between the two families, just as there are often parallels between the society portrayed in this book and South Africa under apartheid. (There are other parallels between this society and many other places and points in history, sadly, however, these would be too numerous to list.) However, what really shines about this book is the way that the author nails precisely what it means to be the victim of racial prejudice, whether it means to be begrudgingly offered an opportunity for an education at an institution that does not welcome you, or various micro-aggressions that many people, across the world, even in supposedly fair and democratic countries have to put up with on a daily basis.
Overall, this is an intelligent read, intended for those on the older end of the YA audience, with plenty to offer adult readers as well. Since its publication in 2001 this novel has spawned three sequels and has been reprinted several times. A fifth book in the series will be published later this year.