How have I never heard of this book until a few weeks ago!? The madness!!!!
Naughts and Crosses is a heart-wrenching tale of young forbidden love and how two people who grew up together and think they know everything about each other are still bound to societal pressures to behave and act in a certain way. Sephy and Callum have been best friends since childhood. Callum is a "naught" and belongs to an oppressed class of people who were enslaved for many years while Sephy is a "cross" and the daughter of a wealthy politician. As Callum and Sephy grow older and their attachment progresses to something more meaningful, they must face their own biases and make tough decisions that go against society and their family's beliefs.
There are other books that have attempted to reverse the race discussion and failed miserably (i.e. white people belong to an oppressed minority while black people are the ruling majority) - usually because the context of the story is so unrealistic or implicitly racist. However, Blackman pulls it off and the reason the story is effective is because many parallels are drawn from the history of slavery and imperialism in the world in which we belong. Yet, there are enough differences given to the reader to make Sephy and Callum's world feel distinct and plausible.
My one teeny tiny criticism of this book is that it's literally defined by blackness and whiteness. It's a tad bit too simplistic. The book mentions biracial characters but it's more of a glance in passing than an actual exploration of characters who don't fit neatly into the definition of "naught" or "cross." Perhaps other books in the series explore this issue more in depth, but I view it as a missed opportunity to add a bit of complexity to the discussion. I also found it slightly irritating that women in this book are portrayed exactly as they are in our world, which is powerless and slightly dim-witted. The female characters were either preoccupied with mothering, shopping, getting wasted on a daily basis, reading gossip magazines, or too busy flirting with a boy to focus on their vigilante activities.
Despite these criticisms, I enjoyed this book immensely. I think it is a thoughtful commentary on civil and human rights and could be used effectively by educators to engage in discussions with young teens and adults about racism, education and poverty. I wish this book was publicized more because it's a worthwhile read. I wouldn't have found it had it not been for other book bloggers and social media. I hope I can read the next book in this series soon!