Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #61: Noughts & Crosses

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #61: Noughts & CrossesNoughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Series: Noughts & Crosses #1
Published by Corgi Childrens on August 8, 2006
Genres: Alternate Universe, Dystopian, Romance
Pages: 479
Format: Paperback
Source: Gifted
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three-half-stars

Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.

Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

In this gripping, stimulating and totally absorbing novel, black and white are right and wrong.

Recommended by: Ellis (The Random Transliterator/Finding Bliss in Books)

Today, I’m going to do something a bit different, and review this as a letter to Ellis.

Dear Ellis,

First and foremost, I want to thank you for sending me this series as a present. It was highly thoughtful, especially since you chose the prettiest editions. They’re so shiny. You will be happy to know, probably, that I managed to read this sucker without bending the spine. Reading my books and leaving them looking untouched is one of my favorite things.

Now, you know some of this already because we had a brief discussion when I was about halfway through, but you are also no doubt desperate to know how I felt from there on out, considering that I decided to do things this way and didn’t tell you anything until now. Sorry about that, but a girl does like to have an air of mystery. Though, no doubt, your epic stalking skills found my rating on Goodreads, so you weren’t left entirely up in the air. Aren’t you grateful for that? I’m guessing not, but such is friendship with me sometimes.

RIGHT. The book. I can see the frustrated peep right now. As you know already, I struggled with Noughts & Crosses at first. There was the hype that left me convinced I would be on an emotional whatever the opposite of a joyride is the entire time. A depressride? That just doesn’t really work does it? Then, more significantly I think, there was Blackman’s writing. I wonder if it’s always like this or if it’s stylistic for this series.

For those who haven’t read Blackman, the writing is pretty simple. That can work for me sometimes, depending on the book. Hannah Moskowitz’s Teeth, for example, was very effective. In this case though, with the plot being so high concept, I expected something a bit more ornate. On the one hand, the lack of pretentiousness is refreshing and possibly fitting. On the other hand, it’s just not my style. That’s subjective.

What’s not subjective, Ellis, is that someone needs to take Blackman’s exclamation point privileges away. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many exclamation points in a single book that wasn’t using them ironically. Now, exclamation points can be okay. They’re fine in dialog. You know, I’d seen people complain about exclamation points in narration before, but it’s not something that ever happened enough in a novel for me to be annoyed by it. Well, now it has. They pepper both Sephy and Callum’s narratives. If it were just Sephy, who’s fourteen for much of the text, I might have been okay with it stylistically, but Callum does this too. Plus, when they get older, it doesn’t stop. The exclamation points combined with the simplistic writing combined to make the novel read like a middle grade, which didn’t fit with the tone or age of the protagonists.

Don’t worry, though, Ellis. It wasn’t all bad. I didn’t rate it a 3.5 just to spare your feelings. While I’m not an entirely horrible person, I’m not nice enough to do that. I’m happy to have been able to rate it this highly. As you predicted, I really liked the ending. That was the selling point, honestly. So few YA dystopias are so unrelentingly depressing. Noughts & Crosses hearkens back to the literary tradition and I love that.

I’m frankly still a bit confused on some of the world building, but I like it. Plus, it might have been a bit weird if Blackman went through the history of this alternate universe, because everyone there would know that and not be talking about it. What I’ve gathered from you and from the book is this: alternate universe in which Crosses run shit and noughts are treated like shit. The noughts were slaves, but they finally kind of sort of almost have rights. The world feels very like the 1960s in America, with the first school integrations.

The subtlety with which Blackman approaches the racial issues is impressive. She doesn’t harp on about it. I like that you don’t learn immediately what the distinction between the two classes is. Here’s the deal: Crosses are black and noughts are white. In this alternate universe, the racial tensions and positions were reversed, highlighting the arbitrariness of such distinctions. The overall point of the novel basically seems to be along the lines of absolute power corrupting and humanity, at least when all together, is kind of terrible. I like this, Ellis. I also appreciate how rarely Blackman brings up race or skin color. It’s not anyone’s defining characteristic.

Sadly, though, unlike you and Meg, this just didn’t get me in the feels. Probably due largely to my issues with the writing, which made both of them sound so immature, I never connected to Sephy or Callum. Their decisions drive home that same immaturity. I do pity them being in such horrible situations, but I didn’t feel for them. Actually, it’s telling that I felt more for them in that opening couple of chapters before I was in their heads.

So there you have it, Ellis. Great world and plot, brought down quite a bit by writing that made me twitch.I would still definitely rank this among the best YA dystopian novels, because I find that they generally are either romances or just terrible. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next ones immediately or if I’ll take a brief break, but I will continue with the pretty box set.

Favorite Quote:

“I’m not sure I share your faith in a society run by noughts,” Jack tells me, thoughtfully. “People are people. We’ll always find a way to mess up, doesn’t matter who’s in charge.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

exclamation point buffy

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8 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #61: Noughts & Crosses”

  1. Kelly says:

    I didn’t realize this was a whole series. The immature voice of the characters is a bit worrisome, as is all the exclamation points – it’s definitely something I’d pick up on if I wasn’t in the right mood. The worldbuilding sounds really interesting though, and I’d love to read a book about race where it was handled tastefully.
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  2. Lesley says:

    Ooh, good timing. I’ve just been thinking about re-reading this series, since it’s been gathering dust since I read it about ten years ago (now you’re probably going to tell me that it wasn’t even published ten years ago, but that’s how long it feels)

    I never noticed the simple writing style or the overuse of exclamation marks, but I wonder if that’s because I was younger and possibly an overuser of them myself. It is a woefully depressing book, but it was a huge deal for me when I first read it. For years I claimed it as my favourite book, despite only having read it once.

    I won’t comment on the rest of the series, for fear of spoiling anything for you, but I will say I think there might have been a World Book Day companion (called An Eye for an Eye, maybe) so you shouldn’t miss that if you’re planning to read them all. Or I’ve completely imagined this companion book and should seek help at once.
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  3. Hah, when I first saw this cover when I loaded your blog, I didn’t think it was Young Adult 😛 I seriously thought it was some sort of Dystopian Adult book that would probably bore me to the grave.

    What stood out in this review for me was that tidbit regarding exclamation marks. I’m all for emphasis and perhaps a wee bit of whisper-shouting (lol, I still can’t forget this when I first read it), but I get pretty annoyed when there’s too much of this punctuation, too. I always get this video in my head where the last syllable of every sentence is in a higher pitch or something.

    I may check this out especially when you said this is one of the best YA Dystopian novels you’ve read. THAT IS HIGH PRAISE, MY FRIEND. And a praise I cannot ignore 😉
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  4. I never realized that this was a dystopian YA book. The cover looks so different from what I’m used to when I think about this genre. The disconnection from the characters and the too simplistic writing-style might be a problem. But, the fact that you call this book one of the better dystopians makes it tempting to give it a try.
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  5. Meg says:

    I completely agree re: exclamation points and short sentences making the narrative seem oddly young. For me, it kind of sank into the background, but I can see where it could be very, very annoying.

    Oh god, the end *whimpers*

    Relentlessly depressing is a really, really good way to describe this book. Also agree that YA dystopia could learn a thing or two here.

    My theory on the lack of world building is that it was an intentional trick on Blackman’s part to keep the focus of the story on the events, not the set up. I may e reading too much into it, but there you have it. After reading interviews with Blackman, she seems too smart and the book too thought-out and deliberate to not have a point behind it. (I don’t know if that applies to the writing style, I haven’t read any of her other stuff, maybe that’s her thing? Maybe I’m over thinking this)

    I’m glad you liked it! It’s too bad it didn’t get you in the feels (or maybe its a good thing, I came a bit unhinged).

    Fun fact, your favorite quote is also one of my favorite quotes! I read that and thought ‘I want this tattooed somewhere. Possibly on my palm so I can slap people with it.’

    DAWN GIF. GIF OF DAWN. STUPID DAWN BUT YAY! BUFFY REFERENCE! ALSO HA! BEST MOST APPROPRIATE BUFFY GIF USAGE!

  6. Bonnie says:

    Great world and plot, that’s good to hear. That’s kind of funny to hear about the exclamation points though. Maybe now that I’m expecting them it won’t be so distracting. Not likely. But considering this doesn’t focus solely on the romance is AWESOME NEWS. Looking forward to reading this one.
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  7. Ellis says:

    Dear Christina,

    First of all I owe you an apology for replying this late. Secondly, I owe you another apology because I still haven’t started watching North & South, even though that was the deal. I know, I suck. How hard can it be to watch 4 hours of television in the time frame you’ve given me? I don’t know. I’m hoping to get to it this week, but I’m should stop making promises, just so I won’t have to let you down again if it doesn’t happen – again.

    Then I want to thank you. This also comes in two parts. The first is leaving the spines unharmed, though I know it’s a thing you’re very skilled at. I recently mastered the art of not breaking spines, but I’m afraid Newsflesh is still going to suffer because stupid lay-out decisions. Anyhoo. I also want to thank you for giving this book some exposure and also for liking (which is weird, thanking someone for liking a book, but yes, I am doing this.) I did indeed know the rating before your review because sometimes I have these completely random moments where I’m wondering if someone is still reading the same book, so then I go hunting down information. I’ll admit that I was relieved when I saw you didn’t want to stab Sephy a gazillion times over.

    I wanted to warn you about the writing, because it’s something that bothered me too during my latest reread. Meg pointed out the same thing with the exclamation points and ellipses. I was afraid that pointing it out would make matters worse because maybe you wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. Silly me, of course you noticed. I didn’t the first time around, because I was still young and just learning English, so the simplistic language was rather welcome. When I read it now, I start getting annoyed with it, though, but the more emotional part of my brain (just, it is there, just lurking in a small corner) always goes SSHHHH ELLIS YOU LOVE THIS SERIES STOP CRITICISING. So it’s there, but I tend to ignore it because FEELS AND RUINED CHILDHOOD SOB SOB SOB.

    I agree that the language doesn’t do Callum and Sephy’s emotional maturation any favours. Sephy is naïve, no doubt about that. With Callum, it’s a little more complicated. I think he is still very innocent for all he went through and he also wants to hang on to that innocence. Maybe that’s why he’s also all up in the exclamations? I do not know, but I think there are some telling passages where it becomes clear he wants to hold on to his innocence, such as the one in the woods at the end of the book where he’s seemingly shocked something needs to be done, even though he normally should have known the entire time this is how things would turn out but I think he doesn’t want to accept reality and hopes it could end differently.
    There, vagueness in run-on sentences.

    What I think the thing with not mentioning race that much is, Christina, is that Blackman doesn’t want to put too much attention on it. She has mentioned in a few interviews that people always expect her to write about race because she’s a black woman, while she’d rather just writes stories where the protags happen to be POCs. I mean, it’s not her job to educate us white people of the world because her experiences are soooo alien for us, but that’s sadly how she’s often been treated. It might be well-intentioned on their part but it’s insulting.

    There is also an intersectional dimension to it. It’s not just a split between black and white, but also between rich and poor. I’m not fond of the extreme split she has depicted here, since, as you (should) know, I’m a sucker for intricacy and nuance, but I think this drawing out the extremes was intentional because it is an extreme situation.

    YUSSSS, I knew you would appreciate the ending. See, this is the problem I have with the current market. N&C was the first dystopia I ever read, so when I started to read more mainstream dystopian novels, I kind of expected the authors to make the same sacrifices Blackman did. In the first book. Alas, they almost never do. Lauren Oliver (the second dystopia I read, hahaha) attempted it but then backed out. BOO. And now that seems to be the trend.

    In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed it (3.5 counts as “enjoyed it” for me). Please know that you’ll never have to spare my feelings, unless for when it comes to murdering titles because please don’t ever do that again. If this had been a 2, it had been a 2. It’s your experience, and it’s not my job nor place to invalidate that, so I hope this is a 3.5 in a “I’m not sparing Ellis’s feelings way”.

    Last of all, Christina, I think it’s best if you wait a little. A certain N&C plot twist is going to be promoted to main theme in the sequel, and I know you’re not the biggest fan of said aspect, so its presence makes me a bit nervous. Go take that break.

    With love,

    Ellis

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