If you’ve never given Malorie Blackman’s ‘Nought’s and Crosses’ a read, well then what the bloody hell have you been doing?!
When Sephy—a dark-skinned Cross and a member of the ruling-class—strikes a startling friendship with Callum—a ‘colourless’ Nought and a member of the underclass—their worlds around them begin to collapse and their hope in one another is the only thing that they can cling on to. The two have been friends since childhood but, as the years go by and they begin to develop stronger feelings towards one another, they are faced with many challenging and heart-breaking decisions which could ultimately shatter their chances of surviving in a world where Noughts and Crosses simply do not align.
Doesn’t this all sound a bit too familiar…two star-crossed lovers, pulled apart by every exterior layer and destined for destruction? Blackman places her own spin on Shakespeare’s classic tale of Romeo and Juliet, however she has previously claimed that the ways in which she went about writing her novel, the themes she wanted to focus on and how she would then choose to convey them to her audience were all influenced by her own observations as a black woman, born in Barbados and raised in Clapham. One of the main storylines throughout her trilogy revolves around Callum’s older brother, Jude, and his Father, Ryan and their involvement in the Liberation Militia, a terrorist organisation. As contemporary readers, we can appreciate that Blackman chooses to focus on such a current and hard-hitting subject (particularly during the early 2000’s) as terrorism. She creates a compelling relationship between her readers and characters, and by playing them into our own real-life experiences she is able to capture even the most rawest of emotions. The novel’s characters, events and even littlest of words, have its readers bursting happiness, outrage and disbelief, and pages and pages of wet, soggy, mascara-running-down-your-face kind of sadness. Just a warning.
On the other hand, what is extremely frustrating about the reception of this novel is that many people have not heard about it. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much rave about this beautifully tragic novel outside of the UK, which makes me wonder; is there a certain element holding it back from greater, world-wide success and how have people gone through their lives without binge reading the brilliant ‘Noughts and Crosses’ trilogy? Well, the idea that a young-adult fiction (YA) novel could be in someone’s top five or even a stand-out favourite of all time, would probably raise a few eyebrows. It is a genre unfortunately not given the same amount of credit or recognition amongst other literary groups, purely because it is a book written for ‘teenagers’. It is assumed that because these novels generally revolve around the inconsistent, unstable, and hormonal behaviours of teenagers, they do not match up, in quality and complexity, to what is considered ‘good’ adult fiction.
Other YA fiction such as John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and Jay Asher’s ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ have also fallen victim to the curse that is YA fiction (despite both proving to be massive on-screen successes). They are initially praised and celebrated within their communities, but still face a public backlash over their use of sensitive topics and the ways in which they convey it to their younger audiences. Yet, writing predominantly aimed at ‘teenagers’ does in fact have a mature and appropriate approach to many of their complex issues, such as: the importance of one’s identity, mental health, depression, suicide and relationships. This genre of fiction is underestimated in the ways in which it has removed the social taboos surrounding some of these topics, and instead acts as form of reassurance to readers of ANY age. However, the sad reality of YA fiction being labelled as ‘literature that is not serious enough’ essentially undermines these sensitive topics and makes me wonder as to whether the genre is solely overlooked because of its association with a younger audience.
Nonetheless, whether you are like my twelve year old self, religiously having read this book, shamelessly taking it everywhere you went and are now almost too familiar with this whirlwind of a novel. Or, if you are still waiting to dive into Blackman’s epic trilogy, sceptically skimming through the pages, wondering if it will live up to the buzz at work, it is a YA fiction novel that will have you wishing you could quickly erase it from your memory, just so you could go back to the first chapter; curious and ever-so naïve, and read it all over again.