Title: Noughts and Crosses
Author: Malorie Blackman
Publisher: Corgi Books
Pages: 443 (without inclusive novella An Eye For An Eye)
Sephy and Callum are friends. Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a nought. As they grow up, they grow apart and the only thing keeping them together is love; the one thing that their society forbids between a Cross and a nought.
I do not own the content taken from this novel. All rights belong to Malorie Blackman and Corgi Books.
Excerpt taken from Page 45:
“‘Sephy, go to bed – NOW.’
Dad didn’t even wait for me to leave before he slammed the drawing-room door shut. I’d barely gathered my wits when the door opened again and Dad marched out alone, slamming the door shut behind him.
‘What did you see?’ Dad grasped my shoulders. A drop of spit came out out of his mouth and landed on my cheek but I didn’t wipe it away.
‘What did you hear?’
‘Nothing, Dad. I just came down for a drink. I’m thirsty.’
Dad’s eyes blazed with rage as he scowled at me. He looked like he wanted to hit me.
‘I didn’t see or hear anything. Honest.’
Long moments passed before Dad’s grip on my shoulders slackened off. His contorted face relaxed.
‘Can I get my drink now?’
‘Go on then. Just hurry up.’
I walked off towards the kitchen even though I wasn’t thirsty any more. My heart was slamming against my ribs and my blood was roaring in my ears. I knew without turning around that Dad was still watching me.”
The story is told through a dual narrative style – half of which is thorugh Sephy’s eyes, the other half through Callum’s. I loved the contrast between their views. We get to see things from the view of the victim and the victor; from the view of the girl who has a chance at life because she is black and the boy who is ultimately doomed because he is white. It’s interesting to note how both characters view their society and how their opinions change throughout the course of the novel.
I find the reiteration in parts of the book to be slightly annoying. Take the scene on Page 65, for example, where the family are having dinner, discussing Sephy and her family:
- “‘You were on the telly,’ Jude told me.” Who else would have been on telly? Who else could Jude have been addressing?
- “‘You’re better off out of that house,’ Dad told Mum vehemently.” We know that he’s speaking to Callum’s Mum for a start. That’s obvious. Considering the preceding conversation, it’s unlikely he’s going to be happy and so the last four words describing how he spoke are redundant.
- “You don’t have to tell me twice,’ Mum agreed at once.” Again, we know that Meggie is agreeing and that the agreement is instantaneous so the description of how she spoke is redundant.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs but this really annoyed me.
Also, in the beginning, Sephy’s and Callum’s voice almost read as one and the same. When building on Callum’s character, he uses langauge that make me question his character and pull me out of the moment:
- “It was icy-cold and oh, so sweet…” (37) “Oh, so” doesn’t read as a boy’s language and doesn’t seem like it would be in Callum’s vocabulary, given the picture she’s painted.
- “Huh? Is pig poo smelly?” (108) An irrelevant detail that took me out of the moment.
Apart from this, I really enjoyed the two vastly different, vastly diverse perspectives that we get.
The charaterisation is, for the most part, clear. There are some discrepancies in Callum’s character that I addressed in the narration section of this review. Sephy and Callum’s individual developments and the developments in their relationship are striking and shocking. Kamal Hadley reads strongly as a politician who cares about his career first and his family second. Sephy’s mother reads as a mother who is losing control of her life and resorts to alcohol. Jude’s character is one of the most interesting. I love how Blackman captures and describes his aggressive body language and dialogue. I was surprised by how much I empathised with Callum’s mother, Meggie. Everything she has to endure from the opening pages to the conclusion of the novel is tasking and too much for one woman to bear. I had the strongest emotional connection to her character. The fact that Blackman can draw on such emotion reinforces how strong her characterisation is. Her characters are human and complex. We get to witness them on a physical, emotional and even a psychological level.
The plot is slow to begin with. About 100 pages into the novel, the story starts to pick up and once the conflict gets going, the obstacles roll in for each character. We get to observe how each character deals with their own issues and the gradual separation between Sephy and Callum. Once we get past the first 100-150 pages, the plot really begins to take off. We experience the real tragedies that affect these characters. The message (assuming there is a message) is a bit muddled in the text, particularly towards the halfway mark and the conclusion.
Setting: There’s some great world-building in this novel. The physical environment is important and well-established but the world (the society and its parameters) itself is what the reader must understand and engage with in order to absorb the sheer impact of this story. The Cross/nought, black/white divide is quickly introduced and it is further devloped and reinforced elsewhere in the novel (when Callum begins school, on the train when Sephy and Callum are going on a picnic etc.). It’s reinforced in place, in character, in thought and in conflict and because of this, the world Blackman creates is easier to access and the reader is better able to absorb the text.
Comparative Literature/Originality: There are books out there dealing with these and similar issues. Why this book strikes me as more powerful is that Blackman doesn’t compromise on character or plot. It’s not a case of one or the other. She weaves both together as only a master author can. We care about the characters but we’re equally more excited to read on and found out what happens and see how the next obstacle affects her characters. One event (one stone in the pond) might affect one (or two) character(s) directly but it ripples outwards so that it impacts the other characters too. And it is then that we get to see the humanity of each of these characters. Though in the beginning, the inconsistencies in Callum’s character do undermine his narration somewhat, Blackman picks this up later and recovers his narrative voice. The content is quite similar to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Some of the events are mirrored, to a degree, in Noughts and Crosses. Scout as narrator is also stronger than either Sephy or Callum individually.
Summary: Slow to start but when it gets going, the conflict is lined up like a row of dominoes (and you’ll never see the last domino fall until it hits the ground).
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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (timeless classic!)
The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry! by Mildred D. Taylor
Legend by Marie Lu