Title: Naughts and Crosses
Author: Malorie Blackman
Genre: “young adult” fiction (racial issues); technically “dystopic” I hear
Length: 387 pages
Year Published: 2001
Source: borrowed from library
Reason for Reading: Eva at A Striped Armchair wrote a very thought-provoking post about this book, so I was very interested in it 🙂
Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
My Thoughts: I think Eva really hit the nail on the head with her thoughts on this book. She said, “While I have a lot of admiration for what the author was doing, I didn’t love the book” (on her post, again here’s a link) and I think that describes my feelings pretty spot-on. I always find the issue of race and segregation vs. integration to be something interesting. But this book about it just really boggled my mind. I wrote in my journal after having basically just started this book that I couldn’t really visualize whites inferior to blacks. I think this might have something to do with the fact that I’m a history teacher and, having taken so many history courses, the image of blacks inferior to whites in the past has just been so engrained in my brain that I can’t visualize it easily 😕 (PS- By the end of the book, I could picture it, but I had to work strongly to visualize it that way.) But that made me start thinking that maybe it’s not the engrained past–maybe I subconsciously can’t see myself as inferior to blacks? I know that sounds really bad, but it’s possible. Let’s be honest, where I grew up was very…white. So this could just be because of my lack of interracial interactions. But it’s a plausible thought, even if it’s bad.
At one point during the book, there were about 2-3 years that were skipped. I didn’t really like this, but I understand why Blackman wrote it that way. If nothing of import was really going on between Sephy and Callum during those years, they were really important to the plot. But I think it would’ve been nicer to see into Callum’s past a little more. The book essentially skips the part of his life when he does a complete 180 and changes into the man his brother/father is/was, someone he never wanted to be. I wish I could’ve known how he got there.
Some of the book really reminded me of true historical events. Like the four naughts going to a previously all-Cross school reminded me of the Little Rock Nine. (PS- That’s why I’m going to next read a memoir of one of the Little Rock Nine students.) But then I got to thinking: How did integration go in the UK (which is where the book is set)? I admit that my education on racial discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement really is focused on the American ordeal. So now I want to learn about how it happened in the UK 🙂
There were some very very thought-provoking quotes from this read, one of which I think warrant a little explanation why I found them so interesting:
“Without knowing a single thing about me, she hated my guts. I was a Cross and that was all she wanted or needed to know.”
~p312 Sephy, about Leila, a Liberation Militia member (naught)
I think this is very insightful. And very true. Why do people tend to have these thoughts? I think everyone is guilty of this–maybe not hating, per se, but just not trusting 100%? I know I’m guilty of it. I get a little nervous when I’m in a neighborhood that isn’t considered the safest, but I have no reason to. I don’t know the people who live there, they could be just as trustworthy as I believe I am. But yet, the feelings of insecurity are there 😕
” ‘I’m not sure I share your faith in a society ruled by naughts,’ Jack tells me [Callum] thoughtfully. ‘People are people. We’ll always find a way to mess up, doesn’t matter who’s in charge.’ ”
~p380 Jack, Callum’s prison guard
“It seemed to me we’d practiced segregation for centuries now and that hadn’t worked either. What would satisfy all the naughts and Crosses…? Separate countries? Separate planets? How far away was far enough? What was it about the differences in others that scared some people so much?”
“My eyes widened at that. I’d never really thought about it before, but she was right. I’d never seen any pink Band Aids.”
I have thought about this before. I think I asked my mom why they didn’t have brown Band Aids when I was probably 13. I don’t recall an answer, because she probably didn’t give me one 🙂
“But I wanted to learn. A yawning hole deep inside me was begging to be filled up with words and thoughts and ideas and facts and fictions.”
~p66 Callum, about going to an integrated school
I like this one more or less because I’m a teacher, so it just fits me very well 😀
So, while I loved what Blackman was doing in this book, I didn’t exactly like the story all that much. It was thought provoking, but that was about it.
My Thoughts on the Cover: Pretty minimalist. I like that I have the “Naughts”, not “Noughts” version. I like the red, rather than the other covers I’ve seen with just the black and white, but I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because red symbolizes war and turmoil, and there is that in the book.