My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I came back to this book as part of my preparation for World Book Night. As part of World Book Night, I will be giving away twenty copies of Noughts & Crosses for free to members of the public. And I can’t wait.
Noughts & Crosses is one of those immensely powerful books, built on the subtlest and cleverest of notions – what if black was right, and white was wrong – and developed into something quite spectacular. Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a nought. This is the story of their lives, and their differing experiences in a heavily and viciously racially aware society.
Callum is a nought, a word never capitalised in the text (oh Malorie Blackman, you are so good at what you do), and society seems determined to knock him down. As a blanker, a nought, you are fated to not be represented effectively in positions of power, to an equal education, to just be allowed to compete on an equal level to that of a Cross.
Sephy’s life is one of privilege in comparison. Her father, Kamal Hadley, is a wealthy politician. His family lives in luxury, drinking things like orange juice (something Callum doesn’t taste until he’s given some by Sephy), and being looked after by staff.
And, just as Romeo and Juliet are fated to have their lives intertwined, Callum and Sephy realise that their futures are locked in each other. Come what may. That future involves an increasingly emphatic war on the part of the noughts for equality, and an increasingly vicious war on the part of the Crosses to keep them subjugated.
I chose this book primarily because I remembered how it made me feel when I first discovered it. It was ( and is!) one of the few books that addresses society, and its ills, without skimping or becoming sensitive over it being a book “for children”. Noughts & Crosses is searing; intensely acute at points, forcing the reader to take an ideological stance and then forcing them to reconsider that stance time and time again, and then at other points, it is the tenderest of love stories.
I am nervous about giving this book out to strangers, but I’m not nervous about what the book will do for them once it’s in their hands. This is a book that makes the reader work – and think – and earn their keep. And it is a book that is just more than a little bit brilliant.