In Malorie Blackman's Naughts And Crosses (Noughts and Crosses in the UK, and part of a trilogy--though only the first book has been published in the US, unfortunately. Has anyone living in the UK read the others?), she creates a very believable alternate world that is almost like our own--but the main difference is a major one. Everything you think you know about race relations and predjudice holds true, but is switched. The ruling class to which Sephy Hadley's family belongs are the black Crosses, named for their supposed closeness to God, and the white Naughts, like Callum and his family, are second-class citizens. In this world, it's unacceptable for a naught and a Cross to be real friends, and unthinkable for them to fall in love. Callum and Sephy are breaking all the rules of the society they live in.
The two have known each other from a very young age, when Callum's mother worked in the Hadley household. Even after she loses her job, though, Sephy and Callum remain secretly close. They meet in secrety, forced to tell lies and make up excuses, but they never stop seeing each other, no matter how difficult it is. Soon, though, they'll see each other every day--but that's not as good as it sounds. A new law has been passed, and a limited number of naughts will now be allowed to attend Cross schools. Callum has been accepted into Sephy's school, and Sephy's excited to see her best friend more often. Callum, however, knows that letting their friendship be public could prove very dangerous for both of them. Things continue to get worse when Sephy and her mother are nearly caught in a terrorist bombing. Sephy's life is saved when Callum pulls her out of the building just in time, but nobody's fooled--that's no coincidence. Suspicion falls on Callum's family.
Callum's father is the prime suspect in planting the bomb, supposedly on the orders of a radical naught terrorist group, the Liberation Militia, or L.M. They're devoted to their goals of rights for naughts, and they'll go to any length to achieve them. This parallel world even has a parallel of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Alex Luther is an activist whose goal is to achieve equality peacefully. Callum's mother is a supporter of his, but Callum's father and brother don't believe that Alex Luther's way of doing things will actually get anything done. The events that unfold after the bombing threaten not only Sephy and Callum's relationship, but their very lives and the lives of those around them.
Naughts And Crosses is a fantastic story, and one that will keep your mind occupied long past the final pages. The world created in Malorie Blackman's novel is one that is much like our own, and inspires a lot of "what if?" questions. What if that was our world? It's not so far off to imagine. How would our lives be different? They almost certainly would be. You wouldn't be where you are now. You wouldn't be who you are now; everything would be remarkbly different, but still so much the same.
Malorie Blackman's writing does plenty to draw you in and keep your attention with the story, not bothering with the excessive and often boring detail used by some authors. It's definitely a page-turner! Sephy and Callum are very well-developed main characters, and the secondary characters are quite believable as well. The story is told in alternating chapters narrated by Sephy and Callum, which really adds a lot to it. Sephy and Callum really are remarkable people, showing the strength that love can have, the bridges it can cross, and the determination to see past what's on the outside. That last quality is one that is, sadly, not as common in our world (or Sephy's and Callum's) as it should be. Sephy and Callum also show how willing children are to love, regardless of the predjudices of their world, before their minds are poisoned by their elders. Sephy and Callum became friends at a young age and, remarkably, they stayed that way (and became more), despite the predjudices of their society. Naughts and Crosses is a remarkable book, one that you won't want to put down once you've started reading.
**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**
Warning: There are spoilers in the comments!