This week I’m reading: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman writes in the foreword to this 2012 edition:

Noughts and Crosses wasn’t so much a book I wanted to write as a book I needed to write. It was born of a number of factors, including – but not limited to – a need to deal with a number of events from my past, a desire to tackle the subject of racism head on, and the burning anger I felt regarding the death of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent mishandling of the police inquiry into his death…

…I knew I was writing a book that would make some adults very uncomfortable (and it did!) because I was dealing with racism, terrorism, the class system and the artificial divides we always seem to put between ourselves and others. But it was a risk that I was willing to take.

I read the whole book in just a couple of days and am still processing it all. I’m surprised that I hadn’t read it before now; I’ve seen it many times in libraries and bookshops, but never felt inspired enough to pick it up. Only recently have I started to dip into YA books.

It’s clear that Noughts and Crosses was ground-breaking with it’s premise: imagine a world in which dark-skinned colonisers conquered Europe instead of white-skinned people colonising Africa, so that our reality is flipped. In this imagined world, light-skinned people are the underclass, struggling against institutional racism.

The story centres around the forbidden relationship between Sephy (a dark-skinned Cross) and Callum (a light-skinned Nought). Blackman masterfully uses this relationship to hold up a mirror to the real world, to reflect the racism that still prevails in our society.

Let’s just say that this novel is something of a modern classic, and we can see its influence in other writers’ works, such as Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, another YA novel that also tackles the theme of institutional racism.

Blackman has since published four more books in the Noughts and Crosses series.

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The BBC adapted the book into a TV drama in 2020; now I’ve read Noughts and Crosses I’m intrigued to see how it translates to television.

Right; what shall I read next?

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