Diversifying your bookshelf: ‘Noughts and Crosses’


“You’re a nought and I’m a Cross and there’s nowhere for us to be. Nowhere for us to go where we’d be left in peace. That’s why I started crying. For all the things we’re never going to have.”

Where do I start with a book as moving and powerful as this? All you’re begging for is that these two lovable characters get a break for once. Instead, as expressed in the quotation above, they are thrown into a world of oppression and injustice that may be more close to home than some realise. 

Malorie Blackman’s book centres around the premise of what it would be like if the tables had turned – if it were white people who faced discrimination while Black people had societal privilege. The concept is incredibly thought-provoking, providing endless possibilities for the author to discuss prejudice, xenophobia and other serious racial dilemmas in contemporary society – and Blackman does not disappoint. Our story comes from the perspectives of our two protagonists: Callum is a nought (white), while Sephy is a Cross (Black). Throughout the book these two are faced with a seemingly never-ending storm of prejudice, stigmatisation, verbal and physical abuse and toxic family scenarios, all of which interfere with their endearing friendship and blossoming relationship. 

One of the greatest things about this novel is its simple yet effective style. Rather than bombarding you with verbose descriptions of racial politics, Blackman places you in the position of those who are experiencing it firsthand. The constant switching between Sephy and Callum’s perspectives allows you to really engage with them on a more emotional level. We get to experience the fear and suffering endured by Callum on a sometimes daily basis, and some of the scenarios, ranging from verbal ridicule to unjust imprisonment are truly heart-breaking to read. Truth be told, there were plenty of times where I felt like throwing my hands up in pure frustration at some of the things Callum had to endure. Every time you hope for some positive outcome for Callum and Sephy, the oppressive system always manages to succeed in throwing a spanner in the works. It came to a point where, towards the end, I was silently begging for some kind of positive outcome for the two as I was turning the page. 

The constant switching between Sephy and Callum’s perspectives allows you to really engage with them on a more emotional level.

At this point, it suddenly dawned on me what made this book so meaningful and effective – it made me realise how much privilege I do have and how much I took it for granted. I’ll never truly understand what it is like to live under a system that condones racial abuse and promotes marginalisation. I’ll never understand what it is like to live every day in fear of someone hurling abuse at you just for the way you look. Yet this book helped me to learn and empathise and gave me that emotional push to support efforts to make racial injustice exist only in fiction. Noughts and Crosses made me upset. It made me angry. And it gave me more drive to fight against injustice. All great, empowering messages to transmit to young adults in the modern world. 

Noughts and Crosses made me upset. It made me angry. And it gave me more drive.

I could go on a long tangent about what makes this book so great. From the deceptively simple detail of capitalising the word “Cross” but not “nought,” to how each moment of dialogue between our two protagonists could make me laugh but then in the next scene leave me on the edge of tears. How infuriating and heart-wrenching it is to see Callum’s charismatic and selfless personality alongside Sephy’s innocence and strength get gradually eroded by the stifling system of government. My compliments to this book are endless and my only regret is that I didn’t seek it out earlier. There are moments that make you feel uneasy and might be difficult to read. However, in the unjust world we live in, asking the questions and feeling the discomfort prompted by novels like Noughts and Crosses are necessary for us to make progress together.

Image: Harmakdon via Flickr

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