Bethan’s Book Of The Month
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Noughts and Crosses is set in a ‘dystopian’ world in which black people are the elite upper class “crosses” and whites are the suppressed “noughts”. It is the first in a five-book series set in this universe and introduces readers to the characters of Sephy and Callum tracing their lives from childhood to adulthood.
This story is timeless and really resonated with me when I read it over lockdown. Malorie Blackman presents a world eerily similar to ours with ‘race wars’ and rebellions asking for human rights.
*Spoilers start here*
TW – sexual violence, racism, and death
The relationship between Sephy and Callum is tumultuous and toxic, childhood sweethearts separated by class and society, but always drawn back to each other. I struggled internally with my desire for them to be together and happy and my knowledge that they were totally wrong for each other. Malorie Blackman shows the power dynamics of inter-racial / inter-class relationships and how power imbalance and suppression can cause resentment and fracturing.
This can be seen when a group of Noughts begin at Heathcroft school causing major protests against their education there. The protesting students start using slurs and abusive language causing Sephy to lash out and shout that they were being “worse than animals, like blankers”. Blackman does a number of important things in this scene; firstly, she mimics the type of abuse and discrimination that black people in our world experience; secondly, she uses the term ‘blanker’ which is the racial slur of choice by Crosses; finally, it represents how Sephy and Callum have a constant struggle between their commitment to each other and their different communities.
The book is written with alternative character perspectives with Sephy and Callum’s narratives running parallel. This builds suspense as we watch Sephy and Callum constantly miss each other or get far too close without ever knowing where the other is. Sephy and Callum spend the book seemingly orbiting around each other constantly coming back to each other even when it seems the worst timing.
My least favourite part of the book is towards the end where Sephy is kidnapped by Callum and other members of the resistance. At this point their love and desire is no longer unrequited and upon their reunion they have sex. However, due to the circumstances, I cannot read this scene as anything other than a man who abuses his position of power over his captive and rapes her. Despite Sephy’s instance to the other characters, this relationship continues to be toxic and problematic to the highest degree.
Although I accidentally ruined the ending of the book for myself, I still found the book gripping right until the last page. I have a terrible tendency to flip to the last page to see how many pages are in the book, it was at this point I saw the announcement of Sephy’s child listing Callum as deceased. Despite this ending, there are four more books in the series, the next featuring Jude, Callum’s older brother, on his missions to avenge his brother and father’s death.
Overall Star Rating – 5/5