Thursday, July 29, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Naughts & Crosses

Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman 2001
Simon & Schuster

Rating: 3/5

IQ "People are people. We'll always find a way to mess up, doesn't matter who's in charge." Jack pg. 380

In this world, the Crosses rule and the naughts are treated as inferior. Crosses are Black, naughts are white. Sephy is a Cross, daughter of the aspiring prime minister. Callum is a Naught, his family is working class and his mother used to work for Sephy's family. Callum and Sephy grew up together, but as they get older, they are not allowed to hang out together anymore. But they've fallen in love and they must see each other. As they get older, the world becomes a more complex place. Callum's father and brother seemed to be linked to a terrorist organization, the Liberation Militia (LM). There is evidence that they helped plant a bomb in the mall where Sephy and her mother were shopping at. Sephy's father is determined to see them hanged. Sephy is determined to protect Callum's family and their love.

I think I'm definitely in the minority on this one, but I just couldn't get into this book. It read to much like an historical fiction novel set in the U.S. detailing the civil rights movement, the only difference was the skin color of the oppressors. I was expecting something different. I thought the author was going to bring a new perspective or something to the story, but instead she shows something that most of us already know; stereotypes are wrong (don't make assumptions) and race relations (really life in general) is complex. I suppose this would be a good read for those students who have never experience racism or tried to put themselves in the place of someone who might have experienced it. Sephy is the naive yet well meaning (white in our world, black in this one) girl and Callum is the hardened and fed up (black in our world, white in the one in the book) guy. There are many arguments of violence vs. non violence which could have easily been between members of the Black Panthers and the civil disobedience movement in America. I wasn't a big fan of the writing style either. The chapters were ridiculously short but the book was still really long and some details could have been cut out. Metaphors and similes were overused and the writing makes it seem like something intense is happening all the time, when it's really not that bad.

The story's pacing is off and towards the end you are hurtling full throttle toward a chilling event, desperate to know the outcome. I kept putting this book down and not picking it up right away, but I did want to finish it. The ending was quite well done. I thought I knew what was coming (and I was right), but you keep doubting yourself all the same, as new facts are entered into the equation. The characters are well developed and there are some surprises in people's backgrounds (like Jude, Callum's brother). I wanted to know the name of the world the Crosses and Naughts lived in, but it's never mentioned. I thought it was interesting how the Crosses celebrated Crossmas, but they believe in God. Why the name change from Christmas to Crossmas? I was always sometimes amused at the role reversals in the world the author has created. At one point Callum's dad says "If you're black, that's where it's at. If you're brown, stick around. If you're white, say good night." (pg. 113). I laughed when I read that, even thought it's really not funny (this statement is based on "if you're white you're alright. If you're brown stick around. If you're Black stand back."). The book is not exactly identical to real issues, the LM is a lot more extreme than any organization formed by Black people in America which is intriguing. I definitely didn't agree with their tactics (I wanted to smack all the males in Callum's family-his poor mum!), but it makes you wonder "if we had been more violent, would we have achieved civil rights sooner?" (personally my answer is no, I'm on the MLK and co. side of this issue but I did think about it).

Naughts & Crosses is a suspenseful look at race relations where the power is reversed and the stakes are higher. I applaud the fact that the author has created such an enthralling story that deals with issues that many readers may be unaware of or ignore. For those who think that issues of race are merely black and white this is a good book. It will make you think. It just didn't bring anything new to the table for me. I don't know how to articulately explain why I didn't like this book, I tried and hopefully it makes some sort of sense. To be clear: I am in NO way stating that I didn't like this book because 'I'm black so I already get it' (I read this review to myself and realized that message could come across). I do want to finish the trilogy, I think the series has potential especially because of what the next two books are about. I just won't rush out to read the books right away.

Disclosure: Bought

PS My younger sister read this book and absolutely loved it. She thinks I'm crazy for not liking it. Also if you've read this book, do you consider it dystopia? I don't think it fits as sci fi or fantasy but I could be wrong since I'm new to the genre.

Throwback Thursday is hosted by Take Me Away Reading


  1. Yeah, I wasn't really a fan of the writing style either. I guess what I enjoyed most about it was seeing Sephy's side of the story. As a black person, it's a little bit hard to see why some white people act so ignorant. I think I was a little more receptive to Sephy's perspective because she was black and she saw and experienced things as white person.

    I know what you mean about "I'm Black so I already know this thing" aspect. I was rereading my review and noticed the same thing "I liked it because I'm Black" come up. I was probably reading into it too much since I was taking a Black studies class at the time I read the book. I think my perspective was a little biased for that reason.

    At any rate, I'm not really inclined to go out and buy the series (because that means I'd have to buy the first one.)

    It does make you think what the world would be like if things were flipped. It's not the best written book(the prose is really awkward, and the characters are too chatty), but it is a kind of thought provoking.

    I always thought that there world was just our world. I think they mentioned it was England at some point, but I can't remember.

    Anyway, great review, as always.

  2. I enjoyed reading this series but haven't revisited it--I felt like it was a little bit shallow in the way it dealt with the issues of race. I wouldn't call it a dystopia, though, as it's really fairly similar to our world. England, rather, it's a British author, no?

    (I did wonder if its being a British book affected how the author wrote about the race differences. Not at all to say that Britain doesn't have race issues, but class seems to be the huge anxiety over there, more so than race. Of course I'm basing that on the nine months I lived in this one British city, so who knows if I'm right about that?)

  3. I couldn't finish this one. Though Crossmas is funny. (I didn't get that far) Sounds like a Seinfeld holiday

  4. @Najela-I'm not going to buy the series either. I almost wish I hadn't bought the first one, but my sister loves this book so at least she enjoyed it.

    They mention a prime minster, which made me think of England. But then I remembered that other countries have prime ministers too. I think it is in our world though, since it doesn't seem to be technologically advanced.

    I agree, the book was way longer than it needed to be. The characters do talk too much and the narrative doesn't flow.

    It does make you wonder about what life would be like if the situation was flipped. I guess my problem with that though was that it's the exact same. I would have liked to see some difference, like Black people were even more cruel or they were nicer. I don't think it would be the exact same. Thanks :)

    @Jenny-I've heard that before, that class is a bigger issue than race. Although immigration is blowing up in England and people are not happy.

    The more I think about it, the more I think the book is set in England. Interesting thought, I wonder if the author's British background did influence her writing. I would be interested in seeing what an American author would think about the race role reversal.

    @Doret-LOL. Seinfield is a good show. I kept putting this book down, but I finally finished.


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