9/24/2009

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman is the tale of a world with a clear class distinction, an alternate universe in which racial and social roles are completely reversed. The world is run by the dark-skinned Crosses and served by the white Noughts—hatefully called daggers and blankers, respectively.

The story is that of Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor , whose love and friendship struggle against the wide gap between their social standings. Sephy, a Cross, is the daughter of one of the most powerful politicians in the country, while Callum is a low-class “blanker,” and would never have met Persephone had his mother not been working for hers. Still, Sephy and Callum build their friendship in secret hours on a strip of beach and midnight meetings in a rose garden. To them, it doesn’t matter that she is a Cross and he is a Nought; they are both simply people. But when Callum is accepted as one of the first Noughts into Sephy’s all-Cross school, everything changes. And as Callum’s family gets more wrapped up in the violent civil rights terrorist organization known as the Liberation Militia, the stakes get even higher. The story whirls into a fast-paced tale of love and trust and hatred and hurting, race and rights and human nature, all tying into the breathtaking climax; a ending no one could have predicted.

Noughts and Crosses is possibly one of the best books I have ever read.

It could easily have been a simplistic story about how racism is bad and all are equal (which is perfectly good and true, but makes for a rather predictable novel), but Noughts and Crosses delves into the deeper, rawer side of that. Rather than simply black-white racism itself, the story examines human nature and the foundation of prejudice. I think the most important thing was the reversal of who had the power. With the dark-skinned people in charge rather than the light-skinned, real-life politics and pre-formed notions are stripped away, and we are left with simply a picture of prejudice.

What was interesting was how false notions about African Americans that have mostly died out the idea that they smell bad, are less clean, and so on, translated to the blacks’ perception of whites. And it fit perfectly! In this scenario, the whites were portrayed as the dirty second class, and all of the terrible racial stereotypes people held and still hold about blacks are given to the whites in this book. One can see that they have nothing to do with a particular skin color, merely the fact that the color is different and perceived as inferior.

The book studies these ideas far more naturally and subtly than I do, giving them a pronounced presence in the story without ever having to state them bluntly as I have just done. Truly, this book is excellent. It does delve into really interesting questions and ideas, but it also paints a picture of friendship and love startlingly well.

Noughts and Crosses is the first in a trilogy, and I give it five out of five daggers. And no, I don’t mean the fictional slur for the Cross class.

Thinking and mind-blown,

Briar

9/01/2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was the wildly popular dystopia novel released last year. Catching Fire, the eagerly awaited sequel, was equally as riveting—full of extraordinary twists and turns as well as further fleshing of conflicts introduced in its predecessor.

For those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, the story centers around Katniss Everdeen, who takes her young sister’s place in the The Hunger Games. The Games consist of twenty-four “tributes,” or teenage citizens, who are put in an arena and forced to kill each other off in the hopes of being the last one standing. The book finishes with the end of the Games, and Catching Fire picks up a few weeks after it is all over.

I received this book in early summer as an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) from Scholastic, and positively gobbled it up. The second installment is just as fast-paced and riveting as the first, with even more surprise twists and deeper exploration of the legend of District 13. Katniss grapples with more ethical issues and discovers that whatever she started with the berries in the arena is far from over. A rebellion is stirring, and Katniss finds herself, willing or not, the rallying point of a revolution.

Catching Fire was wonderful. The characters were genuine, and the alternate universe was just as thrilling as it was the first time around. There is the constant, looming threat of the Capitol, and this not-quite-fake charade of love that must be kept up at all times. There is the uncertainty of which boy Katniss should choose, and this whispered revolution that is putting everyone Katniss cares about in danger.

The first half focuses on Katniss’s life in District 12, as well as the victory tour that she and Peeta must go on. There is one massive twist that dictates the second half of the novel so I dare not describe it further, though I will say that the book ends with a huge cliffhanger.

One aspect of this book that did not flow as smoothly as it might have, was that the twists seem a little forced and deliberate—like the novel was so keen on making startling twists that it failed to have the effect of a change that is unexpected.

All in all, however, I think Catching Fire will live up to expectations. There is still the horrifying presence of a “game” in which children are encouraged to kill one another; something I still find difficult to think about. Both books provide originality in a genre that is prone to clich├ęs, and both are well written with genuine characters who suffer real human dilemmas. Five evil daggers, without a doubt.

Yours, Briar