Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Noughts and Crosses: Malorie Blackman. 26 October – 6 November 2009.
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Forbidden love spawned by mixed childhood friendships – on the surface, Noughts and Crosses appears to be the latest incarnation of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story and Fox and the Hound. But the first in Blackman’s series of the same name is an exploration of racial prejudice and human relationships.
The traditional whites-rule-the-blacks world is inverted, presumably to disturb the reader’s conception of racist issues. Aside from that, there is nothing much new particularly within the overriding pretext.
Callum and Sephy, a white nought and black cross respectively, alternate the narrative in a dual-first person setup which is cleverly done. With so much emphasis on the characters’ idea of each other, it’s a masterstroke on Blackman’s part to allow the reader to understand exactly what is being experieced from each perspective.
By the middle of the book, you cannot fail to get annoyed with both Callum and Sephy. Each chapter brings another, more depressing event and both lead characters simply allow life to happen to them. The reader cannot help but be irritated by their insistence on reacting to each setback by sitting feeling sorry for themselves. We must trudge on through the wallowing in the hope of a ray of sunshine, or some proactive activity from either Callum or Sephy.
Things change in the latter stages, and the plot takes a more dramatic twist. The ending, while somewhat predictable, is hugely emotive and powerful.
Many books are plot-driven with strong characters, but this is one of the few which can claim to be truly character-driven. The writing increases in emotion and Noughts and Crosses, while it didn’t quite move me to tears at its conclusion, is the book which has come closest to doing so and for that reason alone I have graded it four stars.
Upon closing the cover, I was disturbed and moved by the ending. The book does leave you emotionally drained, but that was no doubt the author’s intention. A serious issue such as this should not be casually brushed off, and we are challenged afresh to review our modern world, which is supposedly “over” its racist history. The characters penetrated my thoughts for days after the final page, and I was truly rewarded for pushing through the difficult middle of the book. I now can’t wait to read the next installment of the series, ready to be challenged again.