Friday, August 31, 2012

Retraction: August Favorite...Sorry Folks, I Changed My Mind!

Noughts & Crosses
I have to take back my last post.  If I had waited just one more day to finish this book, I wouldn't be such a hypocrite.  But, damn it, once I started, it could not wait.  It's still August people and this is my favorite book of August.  And it may stay my favorite book for a really long time...

Ya'll, I am in love.  Not the happy-go-lucky forever type love, but the kind of love that rips your soul apart so bad you will never be the same again.  I am in love with a book that has broken my heart and I don't know what to do with myself.  I don't even know why.  The writing was simple, the theme nothing that I had never thought about before...nothing any African American has not thought about before...and the chapters were short and rushed, but that's a YA novel for you.  But, this one...this is much more than a YA novel.  This is heartache on a white page in black ink.  This book is what I wish I could write.  This book had my head, my heart, my insides all turned upside down.  This book had me doing something I haven't done in a while, not since I finished The Fault in Our Stars. This book...made me cry ya'll.

Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman

From Goodreads: 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?

In this gripping, stimulating and totally absorbing novel, black and white are right and wrong.

Oh.  My.  Lord!

What I am going to point out first are the things I did not like about the book.  The reason I want to point these things out first is because, in the grand scheme of things, they don't matter.  This wasn't written for me.  I am a 30-something-year-old woman who just happens to be pretending she is a 17-year-old and reading books made for kids.  My main critique is with how simple the writing is.  But, any critique that can be made about the reading level is ridiculous.  It was written for 12-year-olds and up.  There is not much depth with respect to the language itself.  The chapters are short and often feel rushed but that is generally the standard for books geared towards this audience with their reading level and comprehension abilities in mind.  

But, in being an adult reader, I picked up on what wasn't said.  I was able to pick between the words on the page and grab the feelings there like something precious that fell down a hole, just because it wasn't there right in front of me, didn't mean it wasn't down there and that I could not get it.  I had to reach for it.  I liked that.  Marjorie Blackman's restraint was just enough to help me understand exactly what I was reading without feeling as though there was something missing.  She had to be simple to get the message across to her intended audience and as an adult reader, it was my duty to interpret beyond that, pick up the nuisances between the words and determine the feelings there even though it wasn't explicitly stated.  And I felt it, believe me, every thing that the characters didn't say, because they didn't have to.  I felt all of it.

Now, I am going to tell you what I did love...about this book:

Race Matters: It wasn't just about race yet it was all about race.  Imagine apartheid in its reverse and that is what you have here.  Its an allegory on how race essentially does not matter, that human nature is what determines our fundamental desire to control and rebel against said control.  When flipping racial power structure on its head like this it isn't hard to grasp how simple things could have been reversed...where blacks weren't enslaved, but did the enslaving, where the standard of beauty is based on African features instead of European, where even something as simple as a band-aid doesn't come in the standard pink like it does now, but in dark brown...and that if our world was changed in this way, it would not have been any better on either side.

That's easy to say now, however, because my life, albeit not entirely free of racism, was nothing compared to what it could have been if I was born in another time.  I also just finished a book called Mudbound that was based in the Mississippi Delta right after WWII in the 1940s.  I think my quota for reading racially charged literature this year has been met between these two books, for sure.  After reading that book and seeing what happened to the black characters who are victims in the Jim Crow South and then reading Noughts and Crosses has been an experiment in tolerance for me.  I can't say I recommend reading both novels this way, one after the other, but if you get an opportunity to, try it and tell me how you feel afterwards.

Adult Themes:  Although this book was written with a teen audience in mind, the subject matter is not solely for young adults.  This book covers it all from sex, to violence, to alcoholism, to racism, to religion...and everything in between.

Tragedy:  Lastly, I will say that I was turned upside down at the end.  I'm going to try not to spoil it, but it doesn't end like your typical YA novel.  This book has Shakespearean levels of tragedy.  So much so that the story was adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  

 This is the first in a series of three books plus a novella and the first time I've read a book in a series where I am not interested in reading the follow up novels.  This story ends so tragically that I don't think I would be able to take any more heartache.  I love the characters that much.  I may start off with a sample of the follow up book...see how I feel, if I can really handle it, and then go from there.

Another note, Noughts and Crosses was published under the title Black and White in America, so if you can't find it under its original title, look for it under this other one.  According to Wikipedia, as the book was published in 2002, it wasn't released in America because of themes relating to terrorism which was a sensitive topic following the 9/11 attacks.  It wasn't released in this country until 2005.  I am not sure as to the reason for the title change, probably because they couldn't call it "Tics and Tacs" or "Hugs and Kisses" what else could the title be?

So, people, I am sorry to go back on my former post.  I still like that book too and I still recommend it.  But this here...this is different...this is love, pure but not so simple.  Please read it...please...please...please...