Naughts & Crosses (by Malorie Blackman) = 5/5

Set in an alternate world where blacks were the colonizers and whites were the slaves, Naughts and Crosses is essentially the tale of two star-crossed lovers who struggle against the reality of the racism and prejudices of their world. I remember picking this book up for the first time many years ago and being blown away by Blackman’s representation of whites as the minority race and the plight of her main characters, Callum and Sephy.

Sephy is a Cross (black; pejorative “dagger”), born to a wealthy politician’s family, who grows up best friends with Callum, a Naught (white; pejorative “blanker”) and son of her mother’s former housekeeper. As he grows up, Callum, whose family lives low-income housing, becomes increasingly aware of how inequitably Crosses treat Naughts and how the odds are not in his favor at all–he almost certainly won’t ever be able to do what he wants with his life. When Callum becomes one of the first Naughts permitted to attend an all-Cross high school (the one Sephy attends), Sephy realizes just how deeply-entrenched anti-Naught prejudices are in her world: her family, her friends, her teachers, politicians, and society in general are far more racist than she had ever realized. The events of the plot go beyond just high school drama, but I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll stop here.

Naughts and Crosses is another book I would add to required reading lists for high schoolers. Blackman takes on prejudice and other major issues with gusto, and her characters practically jump off the page. There is a certain amount of teen angst and drama, but it doesn’t bog the plot down. Through split narratives, Blackman presents the challenges facing Callum and Sephy from both sides of the fence; having read Naughts and Crosses multiple times, I believe it can’t be told any other way. Both Sephy’s and Callum’s families have their own problems; Blackman uses family disfunction to explore issues of alcoholism, mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, and even homegrown violent extremism.

TL;DR: Naughts and Crosses gives readers the chance to explore the world from a different perspective, reminding us all that history is written by the winning side.

Review originally written 2 March 2017

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