As well as Harry Potter, the Noughts and Crosses series was my favourite books growing up. I remember my best friend at the time reading the first book when we were 11 and wanting to eagerly read it too, so went to the bookshop and used my book tokens to purchase not only the first book but all three (talk about a risky investment!).
I was immediately hooked on Sephy and Callum’s story. Set in a dystopian universe, with history reversed – crosses (blacks) ruling society and noughts (whites) previously enslaved. There was something that really struck me about these books. It was the first very real teenage book I had read. Although it was a story predominately about love, there was also: racism, discrimination, hate, terrorism, politics, gangs/postcode wars (something you used to hear a lot about in London when I was a kid), and addiction.
One reason for this is:
Do I feel this is appropriate subject matter for Young Adults? Yes, I most certainly do. The assertion by some individuals that ignorance in our children and young adults is preferable to knowledge and debate is astounding, not to mention frightening. No, I’m not saying that anything goes when it comes to children. Stories have to be age appropriate. This is not so much a question of subject matter but a question of how a particular story is told.
– Malorie Blackman
All the characters were really powerful, but flawed, like humans are and their lives were complex with actions neither black or white just vast fields of grey. Just as real life is like. Though there were obviously evil characters (Jude), for some reason, you can’t help but pity him. Knowing society is complicated and by continuously being let down since a child by those in power, its no wonder he becomes the person he is.
The character that resonated with me the most was Callie-Rose. Being mixed race myself, I know what it feels like to be both black and white, and neither at the same time. I remember growing up you’d get stupid questions such as ‘if you had to choose a line to be under black or white, which one?’ and not having an answer because I didn’t classify myself as more of one than the other. There isn’t a line down the middle of me that separates the two races, nor am I a zebra. My school friends used to mock me (friendly banter) as I tick the ‘other’ ‘other mixed-race’ box whenever a form asks that question. But I like it, it adds a bit of mystery to me, it also makes me more unique!
One thing I always wonder is how different my life would be if Noughts and Crosses was real (I know, racism hasn’t been abolished and is still very real). In the 22 years of my life (nearly 23), I’ve only had one racist remark thrown at me. Although it shouldn’t have offended me as I’m not even of that race, I was still taken back by it.
Even though it’s been 11 years since I first read these books, they’ve still stuck with me.