Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma

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Publication date – June 28, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan have never had the chance to be ‘normal’ teenagers. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have become much more than brother and sister. And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences …

How can something so wrong feel so right?

Thoughts: Taboo love is a popular theme, not just nowadays but for just about as long as stories have been told. From romance between the classes to romance between mortals and immortals, the idea of society as an obstacle to happiness is one we can all relate to in some way, especially when it comes to relationships. Who hasn’t had a boyfriend or girlfriend who’s deemed “unsuitable” by their parents, or a crush from a different culture?

But few people take the step that Suzuma did and look into the last taboo, the one that nobody roots for, the one that everybody thinks is disgusting and foul and can’t possibly stem from anything but abuse. Incest. Specifically, consentual incest, and if you think that there isn’t or shouldn’t be any such thing, then I strongly urge you to read Forbidden and have your preconceptions unravel before your very eyes.

Meet Lochan, a young man with a serious social anxiety problem, smart but painfully shy. Meet Maya, his younger sister by thirteen months, pretty, not unpopular, energetic and competant. Watch as they try their hardest to, together, take care of their three younger siblings, one of whom is a clearly troubled young teen, while their mother spends all of her time away from home, either drunk or with her boyfriend, reluctantly handing over money for bills and food, leaving everything in the hands of her children while she lives the good life. It’s a painful and difficult family situation for any of them to be in, and more often than not they’re barely hanging on to normalcy, especially when their mother makes an appearance and is clearly resentful that Lochan in particular won’t just quit school and get a job so that she can stop footing the bills.

In a tenuous situation, Lochan and Maya turn to the only people they feel they can rely on: each other. They’ve always been more than siblings, more like very close friends, and stronger feelings develop between them almost simultaneously, wanting a romance that they both want and fear at the same time. Hiding their budding romance adds more fuel to the fire of stress, and the family seems to crumble further while still managing, in other ways, to pull itself together a little more.

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Lochan and Maya, and Suzuma does a wonderful job of conveying not only stream-of-consciousness writing while still being coherent, but taking a close look into the psyches of troubled children struggling for what they want in life. The writing style is fluid and nigh flawless, and a delight to read even when the subject matter is deeply troubling.

Suzuma goes where few before her have dared to tread: portraying an incestuous relationship in a healthy and positive way, showing that it can come from actual love and not only a desire to dominate and abuse. Why does it have to be that a comforting and loving relationship between two consenting individuals is seen as something undeniably perverted by society at large? Why is it that people deny that such a relationship can be for love’s sake? Why must it be denied and hidden because two people had the misfortune to be born to the same parents? This book will make you question the conceptions you hold, and look at many taboos, not just incest, in a new light.

Unsurprisingly, this book did not have a happy ending. While the rest of the book had its painful moments, the ending will play merry hell with your emotions. I cried. I won’t deny it. People warned me to have Kleenex on hand, and they were right. The way Suzuma writes these characters, you can’t read about them without loving them, and you can’t love them without falling as they fall, as their foundation is pulled from under them and their world crumbles.

Of all the books I’ve read this year, this one is my favourite. I read it ravenously, not wanting to stop turning the pages, not wanting to put it down, and even though I know it will thoroughly depress me, I can see myself reading it again. Many times. And recommending it to anyone I think has a mind open enough to handle dealing with such sensitive topics.

(Book provided for review from Simon & Schuster‘s GalleyGrab program.)

One comment on “Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma

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