November 11th, 2013
Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
I finished this book over two weeks ago. Most of the length of time it took to write this review came out of laziness, but it was also a combination of life getting in the way. I liked this book. I almost loved it. I wanted to love it, but my review will explain why I only liked it, and didn't love it. Naughts & Crosses(or Noughts & Crosses in the UK) was a unique take on an alternative history. It's universe revolved around a type of "What If?' What if instead of European White people being the race who'd enslaved African Blacks, it had been the other way around? I had to say, the synopsis intrigued me. What also intrigued me was the interracial love story that revolved around main characters Callum, a cross(white) and Persephone, a naught(black). Let's just get into it, as it's difficult to tell without breaking it down.
I thought the pacing in this book was pretty good. I wouldn't say it couldn't use some more action every now and then, but it is better than most books. It also had some interesting world-building. I think a person of color knows their own experience well, and what they have to go through, and since I am one, there were certain aspects about everyday life that were products of privilege a lot of people don't realize they have. Women in magazines, men with great jobs, people with the best educations and biggest forms of wealth were all black. Even something as small the color of band-aids not matching white skin wasn't overlooked. It's something I hadn't even noticed in my own world, as band-aids have never matched skin that wasn't beige, so I was curious to what a brown band-aid actually looked like myself.
I wasn't 100% on the consistency, however. Mainly due to the character development but I'll describe that later. That ending wasn't as predictable as I'd hoped. I was actually rooting for predictable. I'll award for it not being predictable, and while I'm trying to give a spoiler free review, just know love wont conquer all in this story(which is actually more similar to real life).
Character development? Sephy, who was a Naught, I assumed I'd relate to more because she was Black. Unfortunately, because she came from a place of privilege, one she didn't question, because she benefitted greatly because of it, she was much harder to relate to than Callum, the Cross. I liked Sephy, but Callum's experiences mirrored more my own. I've had teachers question whether I was in the right place, or assume things about me just because I was young and black. At the time I was naive due to my age. In high school I was the hugest teeny bopper. All boy bands made my listening playlists, and anyone that knew my sister and I knew that. A teacher I didn't know accused me of only going online to print out rap lyrics, and at the time I recognized the venom but didn't put it together until I was older. Mind you I could've cared less about rap then. But that wasn't my first experience dealing with stereotypes and it definitely wont be the last. Callum was an under dog, and POC, we become under dogs, unfortunately because no one wants to see us as anything else.
I felt as if there were issues with the backstory as well. Perhaps things that confused me will be explained in future books? But what I will say is, anytime you're dealing with race and privilege, there is a lot of conflict. Events that Black Americans had to go through, crosses were dealing with in their right now. That's definitely unique.
As far as the language, Im not sure if Im a good judge at that subject. I cant tell whether the language is choppy. Im American, and the setting appears to be the United Kingdom, mostly likely England. We are mirrors of each other, but we couldn't be more different. We use completely different words, and slang, so what looks well written to me, could be choppy to someone who knows the difference. I felt the POV's were clear. It was a dual perspective, and in first person. No issues there. There were A LOT of descriptions though. Im not sure if that's a deal breaker, but a lot went into describing situations, and not letting them happen organically. Editing? Like I mentioned, I cant tell as far as language errors, but in my opinion is appears to be well written and edited, nothing lower than the industry standard.
The diversity is a double-edged sword. There were only Blacks and Whites. It makes sense for the book, but I know I don't live in such a black and white world, so I wondered why I didn't see anything else but. Unless the rest of the world didn't exist anymore, there was no reason why there weren't any Asians, Hispanics, more Mixed race people, Indigenous, Arab and Muslim, the latter. There was a character with a Spanish last name, who I assumed must've been Black. But were they are Black Spaniard or a Black Caribbean(Cuban, Puerto-Rican, Dominican)? Or even South American? Central American?
Speaking of last names, if Blacks enslaved whites, why did all the Whites have European names, and why did the Blacks for that matter? I only saw one ethnic name and it was a maiden name. What people dont understand about slavery is so much of a slave master's power came from erasing the past, culture and history of their slaves. It made them more compliant, and less independent. Why weren't there any white people with African first names and last names? It's an easy thing to overlook, but it's important.
But back to my first argument about it, taking all races out of the conversation erases a part of the conversation. In Latino culture, Blacks have about as much rights as American born ones. I wonder where I might fit in to this society. While I didn't find it was a forced effort, I would've liked to see more added to the conversation. As far as the empowering of the self esteem of the main characters, Sephy got it all. She was a Naught. But all her self esteem was due to the fact she was born privileged. Callum wasn't as lucky. It may appear that Im only sympathizing with the crosses, but I sympathize more on marginalized groups than privileged ones.
The title is definitely eye catching, I had to google it to know what that stood for. Thumbs up for that. The cover to the edition I had was a bit plain. I don't blame that on the book, I blame that on the publisher. The names was a fail for me. As I mentioned before, I would've assumed Blacks wouldn't be walking around with English last names, so Im not sure I can give it based on that. I loved Callum and Sephy though. Descriptions of people? For some reason, Sephy was never described in great detail. Im not sure why this was, but it made me wonder. Is it supposed to play on her privilege, or is it due to the lack of conveying black women positively?
Overall, I liked the book. I think it's interesting, and a definite read for people who need a wake up call when it comes to white privilege. When it's on someone else, you might look at it a different way. I look forward to the sequel.
Who I saw as my dreamcast:
Landon Liborion as Callum
Yaya Dacosta as Sephy