Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

Title: Forbidden
Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2011 (Hardcoer)
Length: 454 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: September 29, 2011
Finished: October 5, 2011

From the publisher's website:
Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives--and the way they understand each other so completely--has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

I have to admit, I love taboo subject matter, I drink it up, there's not much that immediately turns me off. Forbidden was right up my alley, it's a book that's insanely taboo and controversial, and on a subject we don't often see: incest...consensual incest at that.

Lochan (I had no idea how to pronounce his name so in my head I always called him 'Lochlan", since it was the closest name to his that I knew how to say) and Maya are the two oldest siblings in a very difficult situation. Their mother first got pregnant with Lochan as a teenager and doesn't hide the fact that this is the only reason she married their father (a polar opposite of her). After having a total of 5 children (Lochan, Maya, Kit, Tiffin, and Willa), their father abandons the family and remarries. Their mother drinks and is frequently absent from the home, leaving Lochan and Maya with no choice but to take over responsibility for the whole family. With such a heavy burden placed on them at such an early age, it's no surprise that Lochan and Maya never saw each other as siblings, but rather as equal partners in a household, almost functioning like a husband and wife or father and mother in their roles to their younger siblings. In the midst of all this, Lochan and Maya come to realize their mutual feelings for each other...and this is where I can see a lot of people throwing the book out the window because of the incest issue. But I caution that, because this book; although extremely controversial because it not only shows incest, but incest that is consensual at all stages; is one where such subject matter is beautifully portrayed.

The book is told in alternating first person points of view (Lochan and Maya) and the difference between the voices is handled well. Lochan takes after his father, an academic, and his voice is wonderfully crafted with eloquent descriptions and metaphors. Maya's voice is also well done, slightly more colloquial and down to earth, but nonetheless deeply in touch with her feelings. I think this book could've only worked in a first person point of view because seeing into their heads is the only way to truly understand their situation and the depth of what they feel for each other, even though they know what they feel is considered disgusting and wrong. You see them struggle with the responsibilities of running a household with 3 younger siblings (ages 13, 8, and 5), trying to make sure their mother comes home often enough to give them enough money to survive, all the while trying to get good grades at school to improve their futures for their sake as well as their siblings'.

Through all this, you tend to agree with Lochan and Maya, that they don't really act or function as brother and sister, that they are only related through an accident of biology as they say. This idea doesn't necessarily make the act of incest okay, that's not what I think the author is saying, but it does get readers to consider that there's more to love than the norm that we all think of in our heads. Just because most people would be disgusted by the idea of having relations with a blood sibling, doesn't necessarily mean it's 'wrong'. A lot of people believe homosexuality is wrong, but just as many believe that so long as both individuals are consenting adults that aren't hurting anyone, really who are we to judge? I'm not even talking about the issue of having children in an incestuous relationship, because for genetic reasons that is obviously irresponsible and cruel, but leaving that out of the picture, can anyone give a valid reason (aka not going into bible thumping or vague morality statements) as to why the relationship itself is wrong? After reading Forbidden, I honestly couldn't give a reason, it really made me think, which is why I think this book is amazing.

The characters speak for themselves I think. Lochan is tormented and only blossoms within the comfort of family, Maya is more outgoing but is still tormented by her feelings. Kit is probably the one sibling that I was really intrigued by, especially due to his actions at the very end...he's 13, so very much a typical angsty ball of teenage rage, but his actions are both understandable and detestable at the same time. Tiffin and Willa weren't explored much, but I did like how they showed the effects of an extremely dysfunctional family on young children, if nothing else it made me have more sympathy for the situation these kids found themselves in. The writing is beautifully done, and the voices are appropriate for the feel of the book. The ending I have mixed feelings over, not necessarily of the outcome ('cause really you know it's not going to end up all rainbows and fluffy unicorns), but rather how things are tied up in the final chapter...I thought it was a little too easy and there should have been some more exploration regarding Maya and her choices (can't say anything else for fear of spoilers). Other than that I think the book is a mind-blowing little package and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a reader mature enough to handle what's in it.

Amazingly well done, I never thought I would ever classify a book on this topic to be beautiful, but I do. Obviously due to the incestuous content, and the surprisingly graphic sexual content that goes along with it, this book is not for anyone that's not mature enough to handle it. Normally with books with sexual content in it I'd have no problem giving it to a 14-year-old and up, but I'd caution giving this to anyone under 16 unless they were extremely mature readers. I could have read this at 14 or 15 and it wouldn't have scarred me for life, but not all kids are as equipped to handle tough issues as I was.

Thoughts on the cover:
The image used for this review is of the UK cover (originally being published in the UK) since I couldn't find a decent enough image of the North American cover. The domestic cover is essentially the same image of the barbed-wire heart, just with a red cover and the tagline "Sometimes love chooses you". I like the tagline of the domestic cover better than the UK one because I think the UK one focuses too much on the taboo of the whole book rather than getting to the heart of the issue, which is what I think the domestic cover's tagline does wonderfully: the idea that you can't really choose who you fall in love with and you're damned if you try (but you can choose how you react to it).

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