This thought-provoking and often provocative look at racism is a sequel to the award-winning Noughts & Crosses.
Persephone (Sephy) Hadley, now an 18-year-old single parent, is raising her biracial daughter in a sharply divided alternate England, where black Crosses suppress the white Noughts. She faces pressure from both her less-than-understanding Cross family and her disintegrating Naught family, and everyone in between. When her brother-in-law’s violent behavior leads to murder, Sephy provides a false alibi to save Jude, but doing so irreparably damages other lives.
What did I think?:
I’ve only dipped my toe so as to speak into Malorie Blackman’s excellent young adult reads so far, starting with the brilliant Noughts And Crosses (read my review HERE) and now with the follow up Knife Edge. Well, I might be a bit of a latecomer to the party but blow me down with a feather she is a superb writer! I always worry with a series that it might suffer from “second book syndrome,” or tail off and lose my interest but I enjoyed the sequel just as much as I did the first. I’m going to try my hardest not to spoil things for those of you that haven’t begun the series yet but it might be better if you go off and read the first book then come back and read my review!
Okay, so where the first novel focuses on two Romeo and Juliet-esque characters who are fated never to be together purely because of the difference in their skin colours, the second tends to focus and hone in on a couple of these characters – Persephone (Sephy to her friends) and Jude. After the nail-biting and shocking ending of Noughts & Crosses, Sephy has a hell of a lot more to be worried about then just relationships. She now has a whole new life to be responsible for in the form of Callie Rose, a daughter named for her father and more precious to her than anything else. Life never runs smoothly for Sephy sadly and she ends up moving in with Callum’s mother Meggie who is not completely delighted to have her there but begins to dote on her little grand-child. Poor Sephy is also suffering from what happened in the last novel along with a bout of post natal depression which begins to threaten her relationship with her daughter.
As well as Sephy’s viewpoint, we also get one from another familiar character – Jude, Callum’s brother who is on the run after being wanted as a member of the Liberation Militia, a violent organisation seeking equal rights for Noughts in a world ruled by inequality. He is absolutely furious with Sephy (and with all Crosses in general) for what he believes she has put his family through and when something happens to him that shakes his whole belief system, their paths cross again. Will she help him or will it be daggers at dawn?
I’ve got to admit I had no idea about which way Malorie Blackman was going to take this story after the ending of the first novel (which was pure fireworks for me, by the way) and I’m really pleased she dug down a bit deeper into her characters mindsets. We have suffered with Sephy from the very beginning of the series but in Knife Edge we see her becoming a mother, overcoming obstacles and really growing as a person. But Jude – what can I say? He is a vile, disgraceful and embarrassing piece of humanity but by the author exploring his character in more depth and allowing for a tiny glimmer of good that he might possess, I even started feeling a bit sorry for him! Only a bit, mind you. Once again, I also loved the way in which the author presented this dystopian world not too far removed from our own, where skin colour can mean everything in life is granted or taken away from you. And the ending? Oh dear Lord, she’s done it again….it’s one terrific cliffhanger that will have you grabbing for the third book in this four book series Checkmate immediately!
Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.
Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
What did I think?:
I am ashamed to say that even though Malorie Blackman is our Children’s Laureate in the UK until 2015, this is the first of her books I have read. She first came on my radar earlier this year with all the buzz around the first Young Adult Literary Convention which she organised and I attended and had a really great time. I’m happy to say that I’ve now been bitten by the Blackman bug as this book was truly fantastic and I can’t wait to continue the series. The novel is set in a world where individuals are divided into two classes on the basis of their skin colour. The Crosses are the elite, ruling class and are dark-skinned and the Noughts (or “no colour”) are the white subservient class who at one time, were slaves to the Crosses. Slavery has been abolished, but racial prejudice still runs high. The Crosses get the top jobs, the best pay etc whereas the Crosses tend to do more menial labours that require little/no education. It is only recently that Noughts have started allowing Crosses to enter their system for a better schooling yet there are no guarantees that they will be employed, especially if the employer is a Cross.
Our two main characters are Sephy and Callum who have been inseparable best friends since childhood even though Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Nought. As they continue to grow up their feelings for each other change and they begin to fall in love. Unfortunately, this coincides with both teenagers becoming more aware of the differences between them and a heightened racial prejudice being reported in the media. For example, the idea of a Nought and a Cross becoming a couple is seen as despicable in most quarters. Furthermore, Callum who has been accepted to a high class Cross school, is in the obvious minority and suffers from physical attacks and taunts on a daily basis, sometimes shockingly, from the teachers. Fed up with being a second class citizen, Callum does not know where to turn and even Sephy cannot fully understand what he is going through, being a rich Cross who is chauffeur-driven to school due to her father being a rising and popular politician. Callum’s brother has decided to channel his hatred in a different manner – by joining the Liberation Militia, a Nought group fighting back against racial prejudice, but often in violent and almost terrorist ways. Callum has never condoned violence and is filled with hatred for what his brother does, but during his day to day life, he is becoming more isolated and is distancing himself from Sephy, afraid of what will happen if their two worlds collide. Sephy herself becomes increasingly desperate, not knowing how to reach out to Callum but is certain that they are meant to be together.
This was such a powerful book that affected me on so many levels. It’s almost like a modern day or dystopian Romeo and Juliet love story – ah, the star crossed lovers that can’t be together! Malorie Blackman has put her own magical spin on it however with the main theme being racial prejudice, that is just as heart-breaking and passionate as Shakespeare’s original story. I don’t think she had any motive in turning things round so that it was dark-skinned individuals who had the upper hand. In fact, I think she was making a general statement that racial prejudice of any kind against any person of any colour is fundamentally wrong and should not be tolerated. Sadly, there are still some deluded individuals out there who can’t quite understand this… Anyway, I absolutely loved the characters, the excitement of the plot, the suspense element and the (my mouth is gaping wide open right now) ending. This is a series with so much potential and from a talented author such as Malorie Blackman, I think it’s going to go really, really far.