Thursday 12 July 2012

Review - Noughts & Crosses

 Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts & Crosses - Malorie Blackman
Noughts & Crosses is a critically acclaimed alternate history that tackles racism, oppression and rebellion. But it tastes like Marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Noughts & Crosses tells the story of Callum and Sephy who live in a society that is cruelly ruled by the dark-skinned Crosses at the expense of the almost-enslaved light-skinned noughts. Callum is a nought and Sephy is a Cross. Once childhood friends, an event happens that tears their families apart. From all parts of the community, brakes are harshly applied to their continued and blossoming relationship. Noughts & Crosses is Callum and Sephy’s tale.

The dual narration by Callum and Sephy works really well and, for me, is flawed only by the similarity of the two voices.  I didn't think they were distinct enough and I had to keep flipping back to the header to see whose tale was being told.

There is a lot of plot movement.  Too much for me but perhaps this is what many Young Adult audiences relish. And more importantly, a busy plot signifies the multiple difficulties that many people deal with on a daily basis - especially in societies that set out to destroy the very fabric of your souls.

It’s certainly not an enjoyable read but I don’t think it was meant to be. What I usually love about alternate realities is the hope they provide for the future.  Sadly, Noughts & Crosses lacked this for me and by the end it really felt like a punch in the stomach. On Malorie Blackman’s own website, she admits that there is mixed feeling over the ending. As a result, some readers may find it unsatisfactory.  I know I’m one of them. But there are plenty of readers who don't feel this way.

Perhaps the thing that stands out for me most in the novel is the issue of choices, consequences and individual action. So many characters make really bad choices and the unexpected (and sometimes unintended) consequences are very painful – and far reaching. After the punch that this novel delivered, which left me feeling cold inside (as Callum felt too), I’m starting to find peace with the novel. I see it now as an indictment against forms of violent action – and a call for people to think their choices through.

Noughts & Crosses is the first in a series of books (all of which are published so available to buy or borrow from libraries).

The copy I read has a warning printed on the back cover: Not suitable for younger readers.  I think anyone recommending this to a young teen should do so believing that the child has the mental maturity to evaluate the actions characters take in this novel.

Publication details:
Corgi (Random House), 2006, London, paperback (special edition including An Eye For an Eye)

This copy: our own



  1. This is one of those books that I can't believe I still haven't read!

    1. Like you say: So may books, so little time! We can't all read everything :)

  2. I don't think I've heard of this book before... but I like marmite and a challenge, so adding it to my tbr now ;) Dual narration can work pretty well, so I hope I'll like that. As for the lack of hope for the future... it just reminded me of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, both brilliant books that serve as a warning, not so much to make us feel hopeful for the future. Perhaps that is also the author's intention?

    1. Yes, I like dual narration because of the perspectives they add. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Chinoiseries. I agree with you about some speculative fiction serving as warnings - and that's how I read Noughts & Crosses too. But 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale (which I love) were written.marketed as children's/YA fiction which Noughts & Crosses is. So I especially mention 'hope' because it's a controversial theme in children's literature. Also, I've never quite figured out Blackman's intentions although in the foreword to Knife Edge, she refers to Noughts & Crosses (Book 1) as being about 'love' (which it probably is) and Knife Edge (Book 2) as being about 'hate'. I suspect Book 2 will have less 'hope'.

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  4. I really enjoyed 0 & X, but i wish the ending was less sad. Why did it happen??????? :(((( That was the only disapointment in the book.


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