I spent a few weeks in London, then Edinburgh in August on vacation, and, being the librarian and book lover that I am, found myself frequently stopping in bookstores. I wondered whether the same books that teens are reading in the U.S. would be available to British & Scottish teens.
As I wandered the teen sections in Waterstones and WHSmith in London and Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, I found that many of the same YA books that are published here are also popular across the pond in London and Scotland. In Waterstones there was a special display with a sign saying “Everything’s turning green!” promoting John Green’s books. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars were also included in another book display.
As I scanned the shelves in the bookstores, I also saw a few authors that I wasn’t as familiar with, or that I hadn’t heard of at all. One, author, Malorie Blackman, current Children’s Laureate for Great Britain for 2013 – 2015, is a British author I had read years ago. Her book Naughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses in the UK) was nominated, but didn’t make the 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list.
It’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet story of teens Sephy and Callum who’ve been in love their whole lives, but their romance is forbidden because they have different skin colors. Sephy is a Cross: black-skinned, wealthy and daughter of an important politician. White-skinned Callum is a Naught, devastatingly poor and powerless. The law now allows Naughts to enter Cross schools, and Sephy is thrilled that Callum will attend her school. But the seemingly positive desegregation degenerates into a nightmarish tangle of events ranging from expulsions, to bombings by the Naught Liberation Militia, to hangings. Callum’s older brother, denied schooling, has joined the Naught Liberation Militia. Caught up in escalating violence, Callum’s family disintegrates, and there seems little for him to do but join the terrorists as well. The teens’ romance against overwhelming odds is very powerful and moving.
Naughts & Crosses was published in the UK in 2001. In a Wikipedia article on Blackman, The Times interviewer Amanda Craig speculated about why the Noughts & Crosses series was not published in the United States the same year, “though there was considerable interest, 9/11 killed off the possibility of publishing any book describing what might drive someone to become a terrorist.” Naughts and Crosses was published in the U.S. in 2005, and the paperback published in 2007 under the title Black & White.