And so we arrive at the reason why I decided to start posting reviews here: The Noughts & Crosses series by Malorie Blackman. I am halfway in and boy, do I have a lot to say about it. Before I begin, here are 3 things you should know.
- I read Noughts & Crosses (retitled to Black and White) a few years ago, loved it, and then re-read it at the end of last year. I read Knife Edge about a week ago.
- I got these books from the library, and when it’s time to return Knife Edge I will get the rest of the series (if they are available of course).
- It is impossible to express my thoughts about Knife Edge without giving some BIG spoilers to the events of Noughts & Crosses. You have been warned!
Noughts & Crosses is an unconventional YA book that portrays a sort of dystopian Earth in which apartheid is back with a twist- Black people (Crosses) are superior and white people (noughts) are treated as scum. The story begins with two friends; Sephy, an affluent young black girl and Callum- the (white) son of her family’s former domestic worker.
Sephy and Callum are best friends who wish to exist in a world where their bond is not scorned. They like each other, you see, but it’s impossible to have a functioning relationship with all the racism in the world. Callum is in chains, Sephy doesn’t know the meaning of the struggle. They are colour-blind, but the rest of the world is not. They are star- crossed, and the story is about their rebellion.
But it’s not just that. The noughts are trying to bring about a revolution, but Sephy’s dad is a politician. Their worlds are dead-set against each other, and their friendship is a conflict of interest. They are soon driven apart by the impending race war and from then on the story just plummets into an abyss so deep and so dark I don’t think my soul will ever truly know what sunshine feels like again.
This story is grim as fuck. It is depressing. It physically hurts. Thank you so much Malorie, thank you for damaging my soul.
The Continuation… (Spoilers now!)
Knife Edge takes place after the shock ending of (SPOILER OKAY) Callum’s death by hanging for impregnating Sephy in the first book. Callum’s brother, Jude, has a vendetta against her now because he blames her for the execution and so, Jude’s POV replaces what was once Callum’s.
Sephy, alone with a new baby at the fresh age of 18, has given up her wealthy family life to try to go at it alone, but she doesn’t have a clue about how to be a mother, and her heart still hurts from Callum’s death. It is about the recovery (or lack thereof) that both Jude and Sephy have to go through. Jude, a very racist young man, finds himself falling for a Cross girl and Sephy moves into the nought community to raise her mixed- race baby girl with Callum’s mom.
It sounds simple enough, right?
It’s not. It is fucking not.
As I read this, I thought “Damn, this book is boring”. By the time I finished it- right at the end- the little sunshine I had left in my soul had gone away. This book’s climax is soul- crushing.
I cannot wait to see how it’s resolved in the next one.
But Still… Meh.
I LOVE this story. I REALLY do, but there are some things I just can’t look past. I am not the hugest fan of YA and most of my criticisms for it stem from grievances I have with the genre- not necessarily this tale or Malorie Blackman.
First things First;
Why Beat Around the Bush?
The single most annoying thing about this series is the use of “noughts” and “Crosses” to label the races. I am South African, and although I never got full blast of apartheid I know all about it. It’s what my country was built on.
I understand that it’s a brilliant play on words, but, in the real world racism is not a silly game. I understand we have gotten to a level where a moron celebrity is the president of the USA and anything is possible, but I just can’t picture a time in which people would be categorized that way. It felt as though the severity of it all was dampened- ridiculed almost.
I can’t take it seriously every time a black person is called a Cross, or when Christmas is referred to as Crossmas. It’s just too ridiculous, and it makes me cringe. I think the story would be a million times more profound if it wasn’t simplified this way.
Knife Edge Feels Like a Filler
I have already established that Knife Edge hurt me. It hurt me so bad! But compared to its predecessor in which Sephy is actually a strong lead, Knife Edge is very… Whiny. I LOVED Jude in it, and wish he featured more because the book served as insight into his purpose, his mind-set, his fears and his confusion.
Sephy on the other hand… Just whines. And whines. And whines.
I understand she has a baby to look after and no money to do so.
I understand she is afraid, lost and heartbroken.
But something about her was watered down. She is no longer an intelligent, brave misfit. Now she’s a girl who talks about her sparkling shirts and how she hopes they don’t show off too much boob. I didn’t like her in this story at all. It’s like her maturity vanished, when it should have strengthened. It sucks.
Two exciting things happen in Knife Edge. Jude does something terrible in the middle and Sephy does something even worse at the end. The rest, as I said, is air. I could be wrong (because I haven’t completed the series) but I do believe that Knife Edge could easily have been a novella like An Eye for an Eye. Most of this story felt unnecessary and therefore, dull.
But it’s Still Great!
Complaints out of the way, here are the things I adore about it:
YA story about pretty little white girl who has to take down the system on her own because reasons? Let’s turn it into a multi-million dollar movie franchise and worship the unjustified heroes they are about.
YA story about pretty little black girl who becomes a teen mom to a mixed- race baby in a world where mixed- race babies shouldn’t exist? Oh sure, let’s ignore that one.
Noughts & Crosses has increased in popularity and is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves, but it will never be your average YA cup of tea because in many uncomfortable ways it breaks the YA mould. These teenagers are actually believable. Do you know how rare that is? This story is a gem.
It’s Real and Will Hit Some Nerves
We all enjoy stories about sci- fi dystopian futures in which the world tore itself apart and now lives in a state of oppression as punishment. It’s a formula that works no matter how tired it may be. In the Hunger Games people are divided by industry (and therefore wealth). In Divergent the factions represent personality.
Chances are we will never get to a point where the miners live in one district and the fishermen in the other never to cross paths unless our kids have to kill each other for entertainment. Likewise we will never be split into the hippies, the nerds, the judges, the soldiers, and the selfless and still find a way to live in harmony until some super villain stirs some shit.
But we do live in a world where people are racist all the time, and we actively separate ourselves according to our skin colour.
This series is not a great sci- fi idea. This book is a reflection of the world as it is. We can’t ignore that.
It Will Break Your Heart
It’s just… that… sad. Not the fluffy, typical YA sad where death is either glorified, romanticized or overlooked. It’s the sort of sad that will haunt you for years.
So, the Verdict So Far…
Noughts & Crosses is brilliant, and I rate it 4/5. Knife Edge… Not so much. It gets 3/5.
7/10 combined is not bad at all. Read it.
Read it and weep.
And so my reviews for 2017 are up to date. I plan to read the rest of the series sometime next week, as I said when I return to the library. I will keep you updated!