Author: Malorie Blackman
Series: Naughts & Crosses, #1
Callum and Sephy are best friends. Sephy comes from a world of privilege where she has never been denied any opportunity or been in any financial need. Those dark-skinned like Sephy are called Crosses and have always had the advantage of being in power. Callum comes from the other side of the tracks, where being a have-not is the norm and whose light-skin has marked him a naught for life. Callum and Sephy struggle to reconcile their differences as they grow older and as the tension between naughts and Crosses mounts, the two must figure out whether their friendship can survive the pressures of society and the prejudices on both sides that threaten to tear them apart.
“I don’t care if your dad is God Almighty himself,” Lola told me. “Stick to your own kind. If you sit with the blankers again, everyone in school will treat you like one of them.”
Malorie Blackman takes a different approach in telling a story of prejudice and the folly of racism, where the roles of black and white are reversed. Black privilege, instead of white privilege, is the new reality and the odds are not stacked up against the black youth but the white. I thought this was a brilliant way to tell this story because as often is the case, people find it difficult to picture themselves in someone else’s shoes and though this book cannot full explain what it is like to be a minority in a discriminatory society, perhaps it gives those who have never been on the receiving end of racism a glimpse into this other world.
There is an important contrast in maturity between Callum and Sephy because of their differing social situations. Callum finds it difficult to forget the gap between himself and Sephy, after all he encounters prejudice everyday; whereas Sephy seems to live in a kind of fantasy world. She is the epitome of naivety who does not dwell on these difference like Callum and though her innocence can sometimes shield her from the ugliness of the world, it keeps her from fully understanding her best friend’s situation. Because of their youth, both characters retain a level of innocence throughout the book which makes the story even more heartbreaking when they eventually lose this childishness. Naughts & Crosses is a tragic story of two people whose innocent, irreproachable relationship is sullied by other people’s prejudice.
I appreciated that this book took a look at the hypocrisy on both sides. There are no perfect characters in Naughts & Crosses and each person is influenced by their own prejudices whether they were aware of them or not. I think most of us would like to believe that human nature tends toward rationality, but I am of the opinion that we tend toward irrationality especially in situations where offenses are felt so poignantly. There is no greater hurt than to be told you are worthless based on how you were born. You do not earn white, black, or brown. It is not something you choose, it is something that you are. It is a sad truth that minorities do not have to do anything to feel the sting of discrimination, they simply have to be born. But if I’m being honest I would warn that words like “them” and “us” can be very dangerous, and we must all remember that becoming a monster while fighting a monster still makes us monsters.