cover image Naughts & Crosses

Naughts & Crosses

Malorie Blackman, . . S&S, $15.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-1-4169-0016-0

What if Romeo and Juliet had different shades of skin? Sephy (short for Persephone), nearly 14 at the start of the novel, is dark-skinned, a member of the ruling "Crosses," and the wealthy daughter of a powerful politician. Her best friend is 15-year-old Callum, a pale-skinned "naught" whose mother had been Sephy's nursemaid. The two continue to meet on the sly after Callum's mother is fired. When a new law allows "the crème de la crème of naught youth" to attend Cross high schools, Sephy believes she and Callum can be friends in public. Callum hopes a good education will help him rise out of poverty. Instead, the introduction of naughts into Cross classrooms leads to taunting, fist fights and expulsions. British author Blackman's plot, told in Sephy and Callum's alternating voices, is an amalgam of 20th-century race relations. The setting resembles England, but the author mixes in issues similar to American history (such as a school integration scenario reminiscent of Little Rock in 1957). The naughts' protest organization (the Liberation Militia), however, more closely resembles the Irish Republican Army than members of the nonviolent U.S. Civil Rights movement. Indeed, an IRA-like bombing at a shopping center (linked to Callum's family) propels the second half of the story. Unfortunately, the first half unspools leisurely, but those who stick with this novel will get a tragic tale of star-crossed lovers and plenty to ponder. Ages 14-up. (June)