A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

The second type of dystopia

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

ISBN: 0-552-54632-1, £2.32 from Play

noughts and crosses

Callum is a nought – a second-class citizen in a world run by the ruling Crosses…

Sephy is a Cross, daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country…

In their world, noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. And as hostility turns to violence, can Callum and Sephy possibly find a way to be together? They are determined to try.

And then the bomb explodes…

A friend recommended this book to me back when I was at university. The noughts are the white-skinned underclass, only 50 years out of slavery to the Crosses, the dark-skinned people that have the majority of the prospects and jobs. Sephy is the daughter of the Prime Minister, whereas Callum is a nought whose mother once worked for Sephy’s. The book alternates between the first-person perspectives of both characters, and together they tell their story, starting from when Sephy’s 13 and ending when she’s 18.

I realised today that there are two types of dystopia. The first is like The Hunger GamesIt’s an interesting idea, but still removed enough from our everyday lives that the message it sends is fairly subtle. Noughts and Crosses is the second type: the dystopia is near enough to life today to make one feel distinctly uncomfortable. And that’s what it did; the politics of Noughts and Crosses slapped me in the face. There are still enough issues with race and equality today for this book to be extremely relevant, which I can imagine is why Malorie Blackman wrote it.

The character development was brilliantly done, and I was able to empathise with the perspectives of both main characters. Their flaws were exposed as well as their strengths, so they were really believable. Reading it as an adult, I think I figured out pretty early on that the story was only going to go downhill for Sephy and Callum, despite what they might dream and I might hope. In that respect, I did find myself a little depressed in that all I could do is see how badly things went wrong – there was only a tiny glimmer of hope, which I’m not used to. I wonder how I’d have interpreted this story as a teenager?

Despite being saddened by the book, I still really enjoyed it. The message is clear but didn’t stop to preach – everything was put in context. The plot was fast and Callum and Sephy’s relationship was handled deftly, according to their situation. It was a gritty book I’d thoroughly recommend.

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