Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book Review: Naughts & Crosses: a thriller


Title: Naughts & Crosses: a thriller
Author: Malorie Blackman
Publication Date: 2001
Genre: romance, thriller, discrimination, racism, tragedy, British literature
My Rating: *
Official Rating: fiction (adult)
Age Group: 18+

Callum McGreogor is a Naught, a "blanker", and he's white. That means he's at the bottom of the social ladder, as in, the very bottom of the social ladder. Sephy (Persephone) Hadley is a Cross, a "dagger", and she's black. That means she's at the very top of the social ladder, and since her father, Kamel Hadley, is headed toward being prime minister, well, she's at the very top of the social ladder.
In true Shakespearean fashion, the two fall in love. And as with every Shakespearean tragedy, things fall apart.
First it's Callum's attempts to attend a Cross school. He's let in, but really, did anyone expect him to be welcomed? Then his sister Lynette's demise. Father and brother joining the Liberation Militia, and the bombing of a local mall. An arrest. A hanging.
And let's not forget Sephy's attempts to reach her best friend. She tries to talk to him at school--and gets beaten up by the other Cross girls. Her mother has a drinking problem. Her sister hardly speaks to her. Her father has affairs and an illegitimate child and will do anything to remain in the favor of the public.
With everything working against them, and with society changing their views of reality, will Callum and Sephy make it, as a couple, or even as friends?

Word of Warning
  • Mrs. Hadley drinks and is almost constantly drunk. Her daughter also takes up drinking.
  • Mrs. Hadley overdoses on sleeping pills. One theory is she attempted suicide, but the majority believe she just did it for attention.
  • Broken families. Lots of conflict between husbands and their wives, and many mentions of separation and divorce.
  • The Liberation Militia will stop at nothing to defeat the Crosses. Bombings, kidnappings, murder. And their recruits? They are asked to do horrible things, twisting their minds to hatred and nothing else.
  • Mr. Hadley is one of those lying politicians who carefully constructs a public image we've heard so much about in the media as of late.
  • A young woman is mentally unstable. Later, when she seems to recover, she commit suicide.
  • A man is hanged. Another man is electrocuted when he tries to escape prison (this quite possibly was a suicide as well.
  • Violence. Racism. People saying and believing horrible things.
  • Sephy's genuine attempts to bridge the gap between her family and Callum's are scoffed at and she is scolded by Callum's family as well as her own. Later, the author tries to convince the reader she did these things to make herself feel better--and nobody's buying that explanation. This just negates all her actions and frustrates the reader.
  • Kissing. And I'm not talking a chaste kiss between a good couple. I'm talking drunken kisses, desperate and passionate kisses, all in first person. It's the kind of kiss that, shown in a movie, makes the viewer squirm uncomfortably and wish it was over.
  • An unmarried couple has sex, and while the scene cuts out at the last possible second, it still gets rather graphic. In addition to that, it's all wrong. The girl cries. This happens while she's being held prisoner by the LM. She becomes pregnant. Everyone (except baby's father) urges her to have an abortion, but she refuses.
  • A young man is accused of rape (see above described scene). He and the girl both insist it wasn't rape (though honestly, I think there is an argument for it actually being rape). People won't drop this issue and the word keeps getting brought up again and again. It is harshly dealt with.
My Thoughts
I wasn't sure about reviewing this one, because I don't want to sound racist. The reason I gave it one star is because the idea behind the story was important. Discrimination is a reality, in all sorts of realms, and I'm not talking about just racism.
Do I agree with what the author did here? No. Was it interesting? Yes. She flipped what society is calling its norms, and quite honestly, it wasn't any different for me to read it this way than it would have been to read it the other way around. It was an interesting idea though.
But I didn't like the execution of it. I didn't like the characters. The dialogue was incredibly painful, as was the narration. The writing style in general was painful. And this was no thriller.
I read this book for a class, and I started reading it very early on because I could only read a few chapters at a time before needing to stop. Not because it was heartbreaking. Because it was annoying to read.
It was a good idea. It was poorly executed, to the point of it being incredibly hard to read. I'd be interested in seeing this done again, but done well.

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