In this fictional dystopian world, the Europeans were enslaved by the Africans and years later, although slavery has ended, there is still a firm divide. Africans (Crosses) are the ruling class and Europeans (Noughts) are the lower class.
Sephy is a Cross. Callum is a nought. The two have been friends since early childhood and have spent years playing together on the beach part of the property owned by Sephy’s mum, Jasmine.
Years have passed and the friendship begins to grow into something more. However, as they get older they become more exposed to the horrors of the world they live in. They have to fight prejudice, distrust and even illegal terrorist activity to be together.
Will their love be enough against centuries of hate?
I don’t even know where to start with this one.
This has been such a monumental week for a series that shaped my childhood.
This book is a timeless classic. It’ll be like a ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry’ of the future. From the very moment I started reading it, I realised this.
Up until I read Noughts & Crosses, I had never read a novel that places black people in positions of power and dominating society. Which is really sad when you think about it. I read it in primary school and at that point, I don’t think Obama had even been made president yet, so the idea of a black people ruling a nation seemed completely and utterly foreign.
In all honesty, the idea of black people in a novel being anything but a minority seemed unimaginable.
Until I read Noughts and Crosses.
And the very idea that this was possible…that someone had written a novel that portrayed black people as upper class, wealthy and in positions of power…changed my life – at the risk of sounding dramatic.
Watching the first episode of Noughts & Crosses on Thursday seemed very surreal. I need to take a second to praise how every single detail was carefully thought out! From the dialect and clothing to the use of dark brown plasters, the entire production of the show was remarkable. Sephy was black! Black with an afro! That in itself, was so amazing to me. And although, I appreciate all the precision, I still believe the book is better, which I’ll go on to explain why.
Now after I finished reading Noughts & Crosses a couple of months ago, I remember sitting there and thinking. “Wow, it’s still as amazing as it was when I first read it.”
But I was hit with the strangest realisation. And it was something I hadn’t really thought about when I was younger.
Although, I identified with the Crosses in the novel, I could sympathise with the Noughts.
I understood the struggle Noughts’ families faced. I felt the pain and the raw desperation of just wanting be heard in a society that is unequal.
Because that’s what it truly came down to. It’s one the reasons Jude McGregor (Callum’s brother) behaved the way he did. He was desperate and felt like violence was the only response to a society that continues to silence him for the colour of his skin.
Malorie Blackman did it deliberately and I only understood when she paralleled what happened at Little Rock in America, with Callum’s attempt to attend Heathcroft.
Little Rock was the first school to be desegregated in America as they introduced nine black children into the school. However, those same nine children were met with racial abuse and protest as they were violently and verbally attacked on their same day. And if you’ve read the Noughts & Crosses, you can immediately see why I’m saying it was very similar.
Malorie Blackman’s message throughout the entire series is literally ‘if the roles were reversed, would you be happy with the treatment you were receiving?’ but at the same time, ‘would society be any different to how it is now?’.
Now I am aware that this is a fantasy world and it’s not real. But you would be really blind or ignorant if you choose to believe it has no ties at all to the real world. When in fact, the real world is the foundation of these novels.
She’s forced each race to put themselves in each other’s shoes and imagine what life would be like…
I think as black people we like to think that if roles were reversed, society would be completely and utterly equal because we know how it feels. But everyone underestimates, or chooses to forget, how power feels. And power is dangerous because the minute you taste it, you crave more.
So essentially, the innate human nature to dominate will mean that society will never be equal.
It’s also emphasised how power itself stems from fear and ignorance. It’s the fear of the unknown but also choosing to remain ignorant to the issues arising. It’s refusing to be educated on the differences within society.
Both Crosses and Noughts displayed ignorance and fear. Crosses more so than Noughts but what I found interesting was that Jude McGregor was probably one of the most ignorant characters out of everyone, and he was a Nought. He was so set in believing that all Crosses wanted to see him fail and was too cautious and fearful to understand that not every Cross is the same.
Which seems quite ironic when you think about it.
But, Noughts & Crosses is about more than just racism and division. And I believe it can be summed up by a quote from Martin Luther King: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
This is literally the epitome of Nought and Crosses.
Through Sephy and Callum, we witness a love that goes beyond race and class. It’s a love built on understanding and accepting each other’s differences for who they are.
Not once did either of them say “We don’t see colour”. It was more “I can see that you’re a nought, or a cross, and I love you regardless.”
It’s beautiful and profound. I believe it’s Malorie Blackman’s own message to her readers that we should be more accepting of each other’s differences.
Sephy’s naivety to what was happening in the world was frustrating as it was true. She had allowed herself to be sheltered to prejudice and discrimination but that’s because, unlike Callum, she had the privilege to ignore it. She was at the top of the society. Why should she care about the racist experiences of the Noughts?
I think her love for Callum made her more aware and forced her to become educated on a subject that involved her more than she thought. She soon realised that by choosing to be ignorant, she was just as bad as the Crosses determined to keep the divide.
I was irritated by how Callum tended to baby Sephy but then I realised that he knew it was Sephy’s naivety that had allowed their love to blossom. He seemed fearful of what would happen if Sephy actually started to focus on their differences. Society did it’s best to make him believe Sephy was like other Crosses who wanted to keep division between the two groups. However, he managed to fight the prejudicial views enforced on him. His love for Sephy helped him overcome the imposing views of others.
Now, at this point, those who have read the book are probably reading this review very confused as they try to understand why I’ve said Malorie Blackman is trying to say love will overcome hate. Especially, because of how the book ends.
But it’ll all makes sense once I’ve reviewed the rest of the series. I promise.
So I guess, you can look at Noughts & Crosses and see the race divide. You can even look at the issues of power and dominion. But at the heart of this novel is more than all of that. There’s a message that everybody needs to listen to…
In a world that thrives off one group having dominion over another, the answer to the end of division and hate will always be love.
Knife Edge (Book 2) Review: