It took me so long to get into this book, because the central premise is gimmicky. Or at least, there wasn't enough to it. Really, the continents never separated, we still live on Pangaea, but the only change is that the racial hierarchy is inverted?
And I couldn't understand why. I still can't, entirely. I try to think of whether it actually accomplishes anything to have the oppressed underclass be white, and the powerful and oppressive group be black. I don't think it really does.
Well, I came up with one hypothesis - what it does do is make it possible to tell this really fairly stark tale, and use horrible racial epithets all the time, without using the ones that exist in our world, and have too much baggage to be used so often in a Young Adult novel. But does that rob those words of their power? The n-word is powerful and awful and degrading because of the history behind it, and so in an imaginary world, "blanker" may have the same history, but no one reading it can give it the same weight. It makes a book that might for that audience that might be unpublishable, acceptable. But does that rob the book of some of its weight?
And the reason this frustrates me so much is that the book is really very good, otherwise. It's the Romeo and Juliet story of Callum, a white son of a maid and...(I can't remember what his father does) and Sephy, the black daughter of a prominent politician. At first, it's the story of the integration of schools, and plays out very similarly to actual events in the United States, but with the races reversed. As the book goes on, Callum and Sephy try to maintain the friendship they had as children, but it becomes more complicated and difficult as Callum's father, older brother and eventually, Callum himself, join an organization that seems to be a cross between the Black Panthers and the IRA.
Violence, obviously, ensues, and Blackman never backs away from the starkness of her world. I started off skeptical, and ended up being engrossed.
It's just that gimmick. It kept feeling like a gimmick. But don't let that scare you away from this book. (Well, it's part of the BBC Big Read, so it can't have scared too many people away.)