100 Books in a Year: The Noughts & Crosses Series

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#4 – Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman – 4/5

This is something I’d been meaning to get around to reading for quite a while, but I never actually did. I am glad that I have read it, though, because it is a really rather excellent book.

I was reading the book’s wikipedia page recently, to remind myself of a few details – it’s been a couple of weeks since I actually read it – and it bothered me somewhat that Noughts and Crosses was described as a dystopian novel. Because it’s not, not really. It’s far subtler, and far cleverer than that; everything in that novel has been informed by a real life event. One that always stuck in my mind was a couple of lines of dialogue about the colour of plasters, and how they were only made in varying shades of brown. It’s not something I’d ever really thought about.

So, yes. This is an excellent book – it’s a subtle, clever representation of racism, with several strongly drawn characters, and an emotionally compelling plot. (And oh my god that ending. I found that genuinely shocking, in a way I’ve not found a book shocking for quite a few years now.)

Perhaps the one thing that doesn’t work quite so well is the more “mature” teenagery aspects, like the sex scene. It never quite came across as particularly natural, and it was made somewhat more uncomfortable given that just a few hundred pages earlier the characters had been about twelve years old. But, you know, that’s a minor fault, and it probably doesn’t really warrant me knocking a whole point off – it was an arbitrary choice (I’d given it 5/5 at first) motivated mainly by the fact I felt the later books were better, and giving them both 5/5 didn’t really reflect that. Swings and roundabouts, really.

#5 – Knife Edge – Malorie Blackman – 5/5

I wasn’t sure if I should read this one, to be honest, because I sort of felt like I should avoid series’ of books whilst on this 100 Books in a Year kick, to go for greater diversity and variety whatnot – but, frankly, I was going to have to read this book as soon as I finished the last one. They are, as I said, excellent books.

This one was a very dark book. I want to liken it to The Empire Strikes Back or The Temple of Doom to this quadrilogy, but frankly, it’s darker. One of the main characters, Sephy, is consumed with grief (that letter, man. It did a number on me. I refused to accept it) and the other, Jude, is entirely mad.

Actually, no, that’s a rather simplistic way of viewing it. Jude is a brilliant character – a very layered and complex one, who’s driven to violence after a lifetime of oppression. You can’t help but feel sympathy for him, at first – and, in a strange way, there’s a level of sympathy for him even as his actions become more and more heinous, but it’s one that’s mediated by horror at his actions.

Gotta hand it to Malorie Blackman – she is really, really excellent at characterisation, and character development. She’s an author that all writers could learn something from, I reckon.

#6 – Checkmate – Malorie Blackman – 5/5

There’s a great use of a non linear structure to this one. Lots of flashbacks to different points in the lives of characters (across about a ten year period) to gradually show the unfolding story of how Jude manipulates Sephy’s daughter, Callie Rose, into becoming a suicide bomber.

It’s a fairly dark story, even by typical YA standards, and given that it was published on the day of the 7/7 bombings, I can imagine it caused quite a stir. But it’s really well handled throughout, showing the subtle progression of Callie, as she transitions from a fairly normal child, to someone much more bitter and angry at the world, corrupted by her uncle, Jude.

Checkmate also works as a rather effective conclusion to this trilogy – which is good, given that that’s how it was intended! All of the major plot threads are resolved (I knew I was right about that damn letter!) and there’s a sense of closure and resolution to the story. Society isn’t fixed – there’s question as to whether or not it will ever be – but this family might finally be able to find some happiness.

Which was a rather nice note to end on.

#7 – Double Cross – Malorie Blackman – 4/5

Apart from the fact that it wasn’t the end, not exactly.

Of all the books, this one felt closest in tone to the original novel, most likely because the two main character perspectives were teenagers again. It ended up with the same flaw as the original, then – the sex references always felt out of place to me.

But! It had all the same strengths as the original novel too. Strongly drawn characters, authentic and interesting conflict, a compelling plot. You know, all of those fun things. It was also in a style that I’m quite fond of – an individual is driven to great lengths to take down something much larger than he is. Makes for interesting stories, methinks.

Another great book, then, in a great series of books, from a really rather excellent author. It’s books like these that make me really glad I decided to do this, because before imposing this slightly ridiculous challenge on myself, I’d have been rather unlikely to get around to reading these for quite a few more years.

I’ve slowed down considerably since when I started this challenge; I managed to read the first 7 books in 6 days, finishing Double Cross on the 18th September. It was a couple of weeks before I managed to start my next book, which I’m still in the middle of. Technically, this means I’m behind schedule, but I know I’ll be able to pick it up later in the year.

Books Read: 7
Days since start: 25
Days until finish: 340
Currently reading: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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