If you only read YA book in your life I think Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman could be a strong contender. It is fast earning a reputation as a modern YA classic. This is a rare book that has it all; love, dystopia, heartbreak, racism, terrorism and it’s a page-turner too. This book will move you to your core as you follow the twists and turns of Callum and Sephy’s story.
At the core of this novel is a simple love story; the story of Callum and Sephy , a pair of childhood sweethearts destined to become star-crossed lovers (like Romeo and Juliet but edgier), who cannot enjoy a normal relationship because Callum is a Nought and Sephy is a Cross. Noughts are white people with a low position and society and Crosses, who control the society, are black and they lead segregated lives.
It is a book that will make you think long and hard about prejudice in the world around you and it will allow you to walk in someone else’s shoes. Blackman is examining the white-black race divide but the lessons in this novel could be applied to any community that has divisions of this nature. This is the book for you if you enjoy thought-provoking, emotional books : The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, Divergent by Veronika Roth, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green are in the same vein.
Callum and Sephy’s paths cross when Callum’s mum works as a cleaner for Sephy’s wealthy family. Even as children they find themselves drawn to each other and have a special place by the sea where they meet up secretly. Each chapter alternates between the point of view of Callum and Sephy and we get a full 360 degree view of the issues that affect them. They are pure, idealistic characters, who seem too good for the twisted society around them. Will circumstances drag them down?
Their situation gets complicated when Callum is allowed to attend Sephy’s school (Noughts had previously been banned). This section is inspired by real events in the Civil rights movement, when black people were allowed equal rights to attend high schools and universities in the Southern states of America. This is a negative turning point in their relationship as society judges them for wanting to be together and ultimately this begins to drive them apart.
Tragedy strikes Callum’s family and this leads his brother to become radicalised and join the Liberation Militia, an organisation who launch terrorist attacks against Crosses. Will Callum turn his back on his principles and on Sephy to follow in Jude’s footsteps?
What has blown me away about my experience of reading this novel is how current it still feels, despite being 17 years old. Due to the polarised world that we live in, it is even more relevant in some ways. Noughts and Crosses came out in 2001 when there wasn’t quite the range of high quality choices in young people’s publishing that we have today. Instantly popular, a series of three more books followed on and a fifth on the way.
Malorie Blackman is now a superstar on the UKYA scene. She has been Children’s Laureate and has almost 41,000 Twitter followers. I have been to book events where teenagers and adults queue for hours to meet her. She has recently written a race focused episode of the new Dr Who series, there’s a new theatre production of Noughts and Crosses showing in London this summer and a much-awaited TV adaptation has just started filming.
I admire how Malorie Blackman has created her dystopia, she doesn’t rely on too much sci-fi but rather it is the inhuman way that Noughts and Crosses treat each other that cement this dystopian nightmare. This is a special story, a Romeo and Juliet for our times and you will fall in love with Callum and Sephy as you read it.
Trigger warning: Readers should be aware that in addition to the issues of race, many difficult themes are covered: alcoholism, violence, suicide and capital punishment are just some of them however they are sensitively treated.
Noughts & Crosses is published by Penguin and is available here so what are you waiting for go and start this unforgettable series!