Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week’s British Isles Friday included visits to the London Eye and the home of the Brontës, a book review, and this list of King Arthur books compiled by Suey, with more suggestions in the comments.
This week, I’m reviewing Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman as part of the Travel the World in Books Readathon. What British-themed content do you have to share?
Book: Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Genre: YA fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2001 (1st US edition, 2005)
Summary: Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Naught. Their story as star-crossed lovers began when they were very young, too young for Sephy’s parents to be worried that their daughter might come to love a boy on the wrong side of society’s divide. The relationship develops with naive understandings of the world, secret meetings, and an unusual opportunity for Callum to attend Sephy’s school. The complications get ever-more serious as they get older and more enmeshed in the cultural expectations of Crosses and Naughts.
A note about the title. The word Nought has an ‘o’ in the UK editions, an ‘a’ in the US ones. There was also a US edition with a completely different title, Black and White.
Naughts & Crosses is the game that, here in the US, we call Tic-Tac-Toe. According to Wikipedia, quoting an article from the magazine Blast, Malorie Blackman described it as “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…” In the book, the Naughts are the formerly enslaved people with pale skin that form a permanent underclass in this society while the Crosses are darker-complected and privileged. The alternate history is never explained, giving the impression that our reality and the reality in the book are both a product of chance.
Thoughts: This book is described as dystopian in some summaries, but alternate history suits it better. People live the reality in this book every day, not in some unforeseen future, only the colors of the faces have changed. Naughts & Crosses turns the situation on its head, giving the power to those who don’t have it on our world, revealing the randomness of the way things are. A lesson from early in the book, brought home by the plot better than anything I’ve read (fiction or non), is about how difficult communication and trust are between unequal groups — even with the best of intentions by individuals on both sides.
Naughts & Crosses is a thriller that lives up to its billing. I recognized moments that seemed inspired by the desegregation of schools in the US and by bombings committed by Irish terrorists in England. This is an alternate England that I’m still interested in, even after finishing the book. Goodreads tells me that Naughts & Crosses is the first of a series, but the local libraries here in the US don’t have the sequels. I’ll look for them in bookstores in the UK.
Appeal: The chapters of Naughts & Crosses alternate the points of view between Sephy, a Cross girl, and Callum, a Naught boy. Aside from being an effective way to tell the story, the technique makes this book equally appealing to boys and girls.
Naughts & Crosses deals with very serious issues: racism, suicide, and terrorism. This isn’t a book for younger or more sensitive teens. This is one for teens who like their thrills very dark and want books that help them think about and understand the important issues of our day. Hand it to your socially conscious readers, the future politicians and activists.
Challenges: I read Naughts & Crosses as my book for the Travel the World in Books Readathon. The Readathon, taking place for the first two weeks of September, invites us to read books from other countries. This event that includes chats, mini-challenges, and giveaways is hosted by Mom’s Small Victories, Lost in Books (aka Becca, a frequent participant in British Isles Friday), and Savvy Working Gal.
Are you traveling the world in books? Where have you been recently?