Book Review: Naughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman
Powerful and thought provoking book about prejudice. I found it disconcerting -- in the best possible way.
"Crosses" rule the country and are the only ones holding jobs in government and other higher-up well-educated careers, both economically and status-wise. Sephy, our heroine, is a Cross, and her father is powerfully high up. Her mother, however, is a pretty miserable soul. Their money and social status cannot make her happy. (Lesson there!)
Her love interest, Callum, is a Naught. Romance between a Naught and a Cross is utterly unthinkable and unacceptable to everyone. Naughts are not permitted higher education, but Callum really wants it: and suffers greatly when he gets a chance to go to school. A few "Naughts" have gotten educated, but at great personal cost -- and with little to show for it, as Crosses simply won't hire them for jobs requiring educationed skills. Callum's family is struggling, both financially and emotionally, from the opening scene in the novel, despite being hard working and fairly loving individuals. His sister is.... well, mentally unstable as a result of an "incident" which is never really fully revealed, but implications are clear. His parents are exhausted, grief stricken, and worried. His brother is just pissed off.
For the first third or so of the book, it is unclear to the reader what exactly separates the Naughts from the Crosses.....and when you discover it, you will be startled and hopefully uncomfortable. The book raises some powerful questions. For example, what if we are prejudiced and we do not even know it or see it in ourselves? How do you change the mind of a prejudiced person? And a burning issue: what are the ethical limits of revolt when you are being grossly oppressed? Is militant violence acceptable? Necessary? Even noble and understandable?
As both Sephy and Callum wrestle with this situation, the tension seeps into their own relationship. Things become messay and complicated, just like in real life, and they struggle to discern what is the right thing to do in the face of rising violence and opposition to their relationship.
This may be the best novel for youth on racism that I have ever read.
Not appropriate for younger students, say beneath high school age, as there is considerable adult drunkenness, some very nasty racially motivated bullying, a handful of kidnappings and beatings, one instance of premarital sex and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. But a powerful read for older students, say 15 and up, or those concerned with racism and other social justice issues.
Kudos to the author, I look forward to reading her other novels.