Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Forbidden first popped onto my radar a few months ago when @ReverieBR tweeted that she'd read it and it was very intense. I looked it up immediately and was kind of surprised by the subject matter, but admittedly intrigued. When I saw it was available on GalleyGrab, I downloaded it and read it.

Lochan and Maya are brother and sister and thirteen months apart in age. They have three younger siblings they are largely responsible for because their mother is mostly an alcoholic absentee. Lochan is the oldest and has severe social anxiety. Despite the fact that he's very intelligent, he had no friends and can't even speak up in class. However, with his family he's much more himself and their primary caregiver in many ways. He is especially close to Maya. They have been very close since they were little kids, sharing their whole lives together.

Eventually, Lochan and Maya realize they are not only attracted to each other but deeply in love. They try to fight it in various ways but their love for each other is one hundred percent mutual. They are aware of society's attitude towards incest, and while they grapple with knowing in their heads how repulsive their relationship is to the outside world, their love feels pure and true to each other. They are soon bogged down by trying to have a hidden relationship in their family, dealing with their own fear and desire, and trying to keep their family going.

I have so much I want to say about this book. First of all, the pacing was spot on, it was fast moving, and very engrossing. I suppose that's the fascination element of it, who falls in love with their sibling? The book alternates first person point of view between Lochan and Maya. And yes it was at times uncomfortable to read, but I don't think that was necessarily the authorial intent at all. In fact, authorial intent is what I want to discuss. Some spoilery info below, don't read any further if you don't want to know.

Suzuma makes it clear that both Lochan and Maya are beautiful attractive people that others would like to date, they just aren't interested. Maya does try to go out with another guy and it's actually the catalyst for them admitting their feelings to each other and having their first physical encounter. The book does not shy away from the physical encounters AT ALL, they are very graphic. I think she does this to illustrate how they feel for each other and react to each other is very much like any two teenagers in love would. I also think she was very intentional in creating a home life for them that was high stress where they had learned to depend on each other a great deal. The relationship actually felt a bit codependent to me in the early parts of the book, which would not be surprising with their kind of home life. They are even faux parents raising their children together--the weight of responsibility for their younger siblings falls squarely on their shoulders.

And it feels in many ways like a typical romance with certain roadblocks set up along the way. They both want to be able to love each freely and it never seems to me that they ever feel like their love is wrong. They are only afraid of breaking the law and being kept apart. The stress on them is great because they want to keep their family together. And the entire time I was reading, I knew it was doomed, there's just no way in our society that a relationship like this would have a chance. But at the same time, I felt enormous sympathy for them. Falling in love with each other completely wrecked their lives. They had always been friends, there's no way you come back from something like that, FALLING IN LOVE WITH A SIBLING.

Reading this was rather timely because it was around the time people were talking about YA books and how they are written to send a message. I disagree that they are written to send a message, however, I do feel all books send messages, if that makes sense. I don't even think authors consciously always know what sort of message they are delivering, but a message is always sent. It's best, however, when the message is debatable I think. And I think you could say Forbidden is a good example of that.

I won't claim to know what Suzuma's motivation was in writing this (I did ask for an interview, but alas! She's probably very busy) but if I were to guess, I think she wanted to explore a cultural taboo like incest and imagine a situation where it didn't fit any stereotypes but rather seemed like the right thing for the characters involved. I felt sympathy for them and I even cried a lot at the end. So you could say the book's message is to raise the question of whether or not there are really any absolute wrongs when it comes to relationships. What if there is a situation where the love is true and the right love for them? If there was any such case, I would imagine it would look like this book.

the minute they consummate their love, everything falls apart. It ends badly, not going to lie to you. So you could suggest Suzuma chose at this point to punish her characters for their choice. (I don't think this, but it could be argued.)

In any case, Forbidden is certainly a book that made me think a lot. I even found this article on how common consenual incest is. Admittedly, it still grosses me out, but I don't know if that means anything or not about whether or not it should be acceptable in certain situations. Anyone who believes in a literal creation story also believes that incest once occurred. In Tosca Lee's Havah Adam and Eve's children fell in love with each other and their parents.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Sex, profanity
Source of Book: egalley
Publisher: Simon Pulse


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