Noughts and Crosses is set in an alternate world where white Europeans never colonised, conquered and persecuted the rest of the globe. In this universe it is the dark skinned Crosses who hold the power and guard access to education, opportunities and politics. The pale skinned noughts work as drivers, servants, labourers and live in hovels on the other side of town.
The book focuses on the evolving friendship of Sephy a wealthy Cross, daughter of a prominent Home Office politician and Callum, the nought son of her mother's housemaid come nanny. Race does not really factor into their opinions of each other- they've known each other too long for that- each seems to exempt the other from their more general opinion of the other's race, which in both cases is not exactly generous...
This year sees a tokenistic attempt at equality and reform from the government: the admission of the brightest and most deserving noughts into Cross schools. As a result, there is outrage from the most important majority of the public; riots, demonstrations, violence. Caught between prejudice and judgement from all sides, being in the same school tests Callum and Sephy's relationship like nothing before and both characters start to question the reasons for their friendship. Is it really worth the guilt and second-guessing of eachother's reactions and feelings?
When Callum's family become mixed up in the Liberation Militia, a radical group of extremists bent on wiping out as many Crosses as possible in their fight for equality, it looks like Callum and Sephy are going to be forced onto opposing sides, despite their feelings for each other. As the book goes on, there are deeds that can't be undone, words that can't be unsaid and years' and years' worth of hostility, injustice and frustration gradually building towards crisis point.
I loved this book- I can't believe it's taken me so long to pick it up. It's really quite a traditional story of forbidden love and social injustice that flips racial persecution and hegemony on its head, and the results are quite eye opening. Every page reminds the reader of the catalogue of injustices that non-white people have been subjected to by the hands of the Europeans over the centuries; slavery, displacement, eradication and marginalisation. Worse, in most cases. But it also makes you realise that almost any other group of people (racial demographic or otherwise) would probably have done the same. It's just the way the human race is- that need to divide by type, to create hierarchies and rank by difference seems pretty inherent.
Noughts and Crosses beautifully written in alternating first person segments, which really gives a good insight into the characters' thoughts and feelings. The reader really understands their frustration and their fear- particularly Sephy as she begins to realise how much of her world, her opinions and her outlook are built on lies, propaganda and denial. The things she does to cope, the things she has to cope with- it just makes her such an endearing and inspiring character. Callum too- the struggles he has between patience and pride and heart and head are so well constructed, he's a really complicated character that continues to develop right up to the final page. Even when he descends into some pretty horrific darkness, it's hard not to sympathise with him because it's clear that his behaviour is rooted in pain and persecution.
The reader just desperately want Callum and Sephy to be together and be happy, and to show the world that it can be done. Malorie Blackman is an absolutely masterful storyteller- she builds whole worlds that feel so real. Brilliant.