Thursday, October 27, 2011

Liesl & Po - Lauren Oliver

Title: Liesl & Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Started: October 22, 2011
Finished: October, 26, 2011

From the inside cover:
Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable

Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

I'm not the biggest fan of Lauren Oliver's YA books, she's got a beautiful writing style, but there always seems to be something missing from the plots and storylines that make the overall package not as impressive as it could be, so I thought I would try out her new children's novel and see if there was any difference (some authors do write differently from one genre to another). Sadly, this trend continues with Liesl and's a beautiful little book with wonderful themes and gorgeous writing, but there's just something about it that keeps it from actually being as impressive as I want it to be.

Liesl and Po takes place in a depression era or Dickensian kind of world with factories and smog and poverty. Liesl's family was fairly well off, her mother died when she was little and her father recently remarried and has just died. Liesl's stepmother keeps her locked in the attic in order to claim Liesl's inheritance from her father since she can't actually do away with her completely. One night, Liesl is visited by Po, a ghost from the Other Side, and Bundle, some sort of animal ghost that always seemed like a dog in my head. Liesl asks Po if it can find her father and deliver a message to him, which Po does, relying back to Liesl that her father can rest if his ashes are laid to rest with her mother back in their old home out in the country. At the same time, Will, the alchemist's assistant, is delivering a box filled with the alchemist's greatest magic but gets it mixed up with the box containing Liesl's father's ashes. So when Po helps Liesl escape with her father's remains they're actually running away with the magic box, which leads the alchemist and the Lady Premiere to go running after them to retrieve the right box.

I love the themes of rebirth that the author chose to incorporate in this novel, and she writes them in quite well. The thing that irks me is that by the time I got to the end of the story and realized where everything was going, there ends up being several characters and plot deviations that really could've been cut out completely because they don't add anything to the story at all. The Lady Premiere was essentially a nothing character that could've been cut out, the alchemist could've functioned fine on his own. The lady on the train was pointless too. On the other hand there were some things I wish were fleshed out, like Mo's sister and Po's background before it became a ghost (it's brought up very abruptly right at the end). Plus I wish the main characters like Liesl and Po and Will were fleshed out more themselves character-wise, they seem very flat at certain points. I know it's a children's book, but this felt like it either had to be shorter like a fairy tale that just states facts and people believe them, just make it longer to flesh out the stuff that's already there.

Beautiful writing with wonderful themes, but again there's something missing along the way that just prevents it from having that extra "wow" factor.

Thoughts on the cover:
This book has gorgeous illustrations both throughout the book and on the cover. The best part is that the full version of the image of Liesl, Po and Bundle on the dust jacket is extended on the actual cover underneath, it's soooo pretty.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breadcrumbs - Anne Ursu

Title: Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Children's Fairy Tale/Fantasy
Started: October 17, 2011
Finished: October 21, 2011

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

I have been so lucky with my recent books, they've all been ones I've been dying to read and have all really impressed me, and Breadcrumbs continues this trend.

Breadcrumbs is a modern fairy tale retelling of "The Snow Queen", and is one of few fairy tale retellings that is amazingly well done. Hazel is 11 years old and doesn't really fit in anywhere. She was adopted from India as an infant by her white parents who have recently divorced, and is quite conscious of the unspoken questions on people's faces when they see her with her mother. She is highly imaginative (having read lots of stories), and very in tune with her emotions; she doesn't get self-conscious about twirling around in a snow fall in her pajamas, savouring the magic of falling snow, a behaviour that most children reign in around that age. The only person she fits with is Jack, her best friend since forever. Since Jack and Hazel now attend the same school, she depends on his friendship even more to help her transition from a private school that valued her imagination to a normal public school that just wants her to act grown up. Jack has his own issues as well; his mother is deep in the throes of depression to the point where she is like a non-entity, and his father does his best to keep life as normal as possible. At the age where boys and girls begin to have more romantic feelings for each other rather than platonic friendships, Jack has to carefully balance his relationship with Hazel and that of his male friends, and they begin to break apart. Hazel's mother lovingly tries to get Hazel to form friendships with other girls, but Hazel is adamant that Jack needs her as much as she needs him, and in a way she's right.

Whereas the first half of the book sets the stage for Hazel and Jack and shows their day-to-day existence as relatively innocent children dealing with heavy stuff, the second half is the journey that is growing up that both Hazel and Jack go through in their own way. Incorporating the 'Snow Queen' elements, Jack is struck in the eye by a ice shard that penetrates to his very heart, making him cold to Hazel and changing his personality from a boy that loves stories and make believe to a boy that loves the unbreakable truth of mathematics. He goes off with the snow queen/white witch herself to her ice palace, and once Hazel finds out where he's gone she packs up and ventures into the woods, deciding she must rescue him. I loved the ice metaphor for growing up and changing (for the worse) as we grow, the little lines dropped by the various inhabitants of the woods reinforce that the witch's realm is a cruel one and that she's always there but everyone just tries to ignore the fact that she is so they can be happy. The second half is filled with fairy tale tropes and images from the woodsman and the wolves to The Little Match Girl, and as such is written much more surreally and lyrically than the first half (though the writing is just as beautiful in the first half, just not in that 'other-worldly' quality of the second half). Some of my favourite quotes out of this book come from this second half; both of the witch speaking to Hazel when she comes to rescue Jack:

"You know you'll never get him back," she said. "Not really. Even if you take him, it won't be the same." (pg. 281)

"Know this," she said, her voice as clear as a shard of glass. "If you take him away, he will change. And someday he will be a man, and you will not even know him, and he will only think of you with a passing smile."
At least he would think of me, Hazel wanted to say...It was not supposed to be this easy. This was to be the final confrontation. There was to be struggle, torment, despair. But the witch-who was the only person in the woods who wanted nothing-was not what Hazel had to defeat." (pg. 282)

I love these, they're not complicated quotes by any means, but convey meaning in a writing style that is very rarely targeted towards children. The first thing I thought of when I got a sense of the author's style was that this felt more like some surreal story for adults that remember childhood clearly, but then I changed my mind that it is for children too, it's just rare to find an author that will write a middle grade novel in this manner that doesn't talk down to kids. So if nothing else, read this just for the writing, it is truly beautiful on so many levels.

I loved Hazel, it's hard not to, she's portrayed so sympathetically; she also reminded me a lot of myself personality-wise at that age (just minus the male best friend). On a superficial level, I appreciated that she wasn't white; children's books need more multicultural, varied characters than what they usually get, so that aspect pleased me. I also liked the way Hazel's mother was portrayed. Usually parents aren't painted in the best light in children's literature, but Hazel's mom, although she really doesn't understand her daughter, she truly loves her and really tries her best to help in what ways she can, and that comes across clearly. At least this helps perpetuate to kids that yes, a lot of adults/parents won't get you, but there are those that still love you and honestly want to help you and not screw you around. I also loved the addition of Adelaide's Uncle Martin, the one adult that is grown up but still retains the personality of one of the kids, and gets mocked for it; it was another example of growing up, but one where growing up can be done on a person's own terms (ie. I can be grown up in the mature sense but not lose the magic and wonder).

There was only one detriment that I could really think of, and that's that the ending felt rushed and incomplete. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but the ending I got left me a little unsatisfied....not quite sure what I would even suggest in its place, I just know it didn't fit...

Stunning, beautiful, and wise; this is a practically perfect offering that is simply enchanting. Gorgeous writing, realistic situations and characters, and a seamless blending of the fairy tale elements into a modern story. Just read this, you won't be disappointed, it's one of the best children's books I've read this year, and it's one that adults will fall in love with too.

Thoughts on the cover:
I'll admit, I had cover lust for this book when I first saw it. The winter forest scene at sunset with the whites, oranges, pinks, and purples is beautiful eye candy; and Hazel off to the side with the wolves in the background are placed just right so your eye is drawn into the core of the forest.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 423 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: October 15, 2011
Finished: October 16, 2011

From the inside cover:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

This book has been on my radar for a while, mainly because it's gotten so much positive hype. Thankfully for me, the book lives up to the hype more or less, I sat down with it over the weekend and couldn't put it down because I got so engrossed in it.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is high fantasy, and takes place in the kingdoms of Orovalle and Joya d'Arena, where God chooses one person every hundred years for an act of divine service to the people, marked by a divine gem called a Godstone. Elisa is the 16-year-old younger princess of Orovalle, ignored both because she is a girl and because she is not a clone of her older sister Alodia. However, Elisa possess the Godstone, lodged in her navel by a beam of light when she was only a baby (I couldn't help from thinking of Carebears every time this came up despite the serious and non-fluffy nature of the whole idea). She is constantly told of her wonderful destiny as God's servant, but is kept ignorant of what exactly that entails. She is hastily married off to Alejandro, king of Joya d'Arena, in the midst of both countries planning for a war against the common enemy, the Invierne. Not only does Elisa have to learn to navigate the very different world of her new husband's home of Brisadulce, she must also prove herself a worthy queen despite her self-esteem issues. Elisa is later kidnapped by revolutionaries who inform her of a traitor in her new husband's midst, who has allied with the Invierne for his own benefit at the expense of the forgotten hill peoples. Because Alejandro is a coward as a king (but a good man otherwise), the revolutionaries believe that Elisa, as the bearer of the Godstone, is their only hope to save their people.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns does an amazing job of capturing the reader right away, the world-building is remarkably well done and the plot moves along quite nicely, so there's no boring lags to plow through. Elisa is a wonderfully sympathetic character, she's got some insecurity issues from being motherless (and blamed for said act by her older sister), ignored by her father, kept in the dark about what being a bearer really means, and to top it off, she's overweight too. I loved the fact that Elisa was portrayed as a heavier girl, you don't see that explicitly stated in YA books (except ones that revolve around weight loss) and hardly ever in a heroine. Though she does end up losing some weight as the book progresses (not consciously), she's still not portrayed as a stick, so the author gets some respect from me for that. Elisa starts off pretty meek and spineless (though quite a cunning strategist), but eventually does grow into a very confident and self-assured young woman, so there is noticeable character growth for those people that don't like it when their heroines aren't super strong right off the bat (I personally don't mind a spineless character in reasonable circumstances so long as they noticeably grow as the novel progresses).

There were only a few things about this book that irked me. I would have liked to see Elisa not go through the physical body change before having her worth realized...I know the author probably didn't intend it as such and based on the plot it was kind of a natural progression, but it still alludes to the idea that a person who's heavy isn't of value until they conform to the widely held idea of real beauty. Would it be so bad to have a kick-ass heroine who happens to be a little heavy? I know some real-life heavier set ladies that are as healthy as skinny-mini girls, if not more so, and who can give a lot of people a run for their money physically, I'd just like to see this reflected once in a while in mainstream media. Also, the romance aspect wasn't really given a lot of spotlight. That's not a big problem for me, I can live without a romance, but the time they did devote to it wasn't enough, it wasn't very believable. Granted, this is the first book in a planned trilogy, so there might be some new, believable development on the romance front in forthcoming books. Lastly, the book could be viewed as preachy if one chose to read it as's easy to ignore the obvious connections because magic is mentioned (though not as often as the God references and other faith based stuff), so for someone that likes their fantasy without something so closely resembling mainstream religion it did irk me every so often, but again it's easy to ignore.

One of the best fantasy titles I've read this year. Wonderfully well-written with an excellent and engrossing plot that will have you glued to the pages long into the night, and a strong, sympathetic heroine that you can truly admire. I'll definitely be picking up the rest of the series when it's released, so read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Compared to the proposed cover, this new one is much more appropriate. Elisa is described as dark skinned and heavy, whereas the ARC cover portrays a skinny girl who is anything but dark-skinned. This new cover focuses more on a forest scene with Elisa's face half hidden in the Godstone in the centre. I think some desert imagery would have been more appropriate than a forest scene, but oh well...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bumped - Megan McCafferty

Title: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: October 11, 2011
Finished: October 14, 2011

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

From New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty comes a strikingly original look at friendship, love, and sisterhood—in a future that is eerily believable.

I've been wanting to read this for a long time and a copy finally came in at my library, which was good for me since this is once of the more intriguing novels I've read recently.

Bumped takes place in 2036 a dystopian universe where a virus destroys fertility in both males and females beginning between the ages of 18-20. With reproductive technologies being useless in this area, couples wanting a child turn to teenaged boys and girls as sperm and egg donors/surrogates for their children. So to say that in this world, teenage girls are highly valued is a bit of an understatement. I love the feel of this book right off the bat. You hit the ground running in Bumped, you're thrown right into this world where teenage pregnancy is encouraged and exploited rather than shamed, it's kind of like a huge celebrity scene where the best surrogates and sperm donors are asked for autographs and have their own agents and receive multi-million dollar contracts from clients. Because the author throws you into this world with no info-dumping at the beginning, it does take a little while to get used to the world and the terminology before you begin to really understand where the author's going with all this.

Amidst this whole crazy world that encourages sexuality in young girls are Melody and Harmony, 16-year-old identical twins separated at birth and adopted out into two completely different set of circumstances. Melody goes to a family that primes her to be a professional surrogate from an early age, whereas Harmony is adopted into Goodside, a religious community separate from the teen pregnancy-obsessed culture that is Melody's life. The book opens with Harmony and Melody meeting for the first time after having discovered the other upon investigation of their adoption records. Harmony intends to try to make Melody see the error of her ways and to try to bring her back to Goodside so she can be an honest wife and mother. Melody on the other hand is caught up in maintaining her exclusive contract with the Jaydens, a couple whose child she will bare once a suitable sperm donor is found. Right away the two worlds are juxtaposed, Harmony's uber religious life is messed up something fierce, but so is Melody's in a different way, it really highlights the fact that the situations both girls are coming from are bad on both ends of the spectrum.

I love how pregnancy itself is at first shown to be this happy, bouncy kind of thing that all these girls want and that their government wants them to want, and you see the propaganda that the girls are shown on a daily basis. But as the book unravels you see how things aren't as wonderful as they seem: the girls are given drugs to prevent them from bonding with their babies so they can easily give them up at birth, and anyone who somehow isn't affected by the drugs or doesn't take them is taken away to a remote facility. Girls suffer pregnancy complications and are affected for the rest of their lives for an action that not many of them give too much thought to because their world doesn't want them to consider the risks involved. The practice of eugenics is also widely used, which harkens back to some serious Nazi Germany mental images. So the author doesn't completely promote the idea of teen pregnancy for anyone who's worried that that might be an issue.

There were a few things that I noticed though. If fertility is destroyed sometime between the ages of 18-20, I can get why reproductive technology like IVF and such wouldn't work on older people (I'll ignore the fact that the virus causing all this is never really explained, but I'm used to that in these types of books), but why wouldn't they be able to use such technology on the teenagers themselves, thereby removing the act of sex altogether? They make this whole big deal over the act itself, whether that's to get the kids interested or whatever, but you'd think to ensure success they'd simply make it more clinical rather than rely on the act to just work....unless the author's trying to shown how corrupted and soulless this world is, which if that's her game she succeeded. Also, I think for a reader to actually get the full extent of the "teen pregnancy isn't as awesome as it seems" bit, they'd have to have a lot of knowledge about pregnancy. There's a lot of specialized terminology thrown around that assumes the reader understands the depth to, but your average young adult reader wouldn't (most teenage girls I teach don't have a freaking clue about pregnancy beyond the basic stuff), I understood because I currently am pregnant and have practically memorized sections of pregnancy books, but I fear a lot of the stuff mentioned will fly over the heads of targeted readers, which is kind of sad because the beauty is in these subtle details that get thrown around. One thing that's completely personal, I hated Harmony and felt she was very unrealistic. I get that she was raised in a very sheltered environment but falling for every guy that pays her the slightest bit of attention and then running off with the guy she knows is supposed to bump with her twin sister? Sorry, not quite believable in my eyes. She does redeem herself in the end and I appreciate the point of view shown through her, but as a character she just annoyed the crap out of me.

As an obvious note, there's a lot of sexual innuendo and sexual language in this book, there's pre-teens talking about sperm donors in such a sexual manner that it made me uncomfortable, and again I know it's to show how they're idealized like celebrities, but it's still super creepy. It completely blows your mind in terms of how we're conditioned to think about kids and young adults and sex, so obviously this is something you'd give an extremely mature reader, one that can understand the subtleties that the author is trying to do here.

Excellent book that explores the idea of teen pregnancy in a witty and subversive way that's well written with an incredible amount of world-building. Given that, the sexual content contained here means this book should only be given to mature readers that will understand that the author is not in fact glorifying anything here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple but appropriate.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Anastasia's Secret - Susanne Dunlap

Title: Anastasia's Secret
Author: Susanne Dunlap
Publisher: Bloomsbury Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 330 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: October 5, 2011
Finished: October 8, 2011

From the inside cover:
For Anastasia Romanov, life as the privileged daughter of Russia's last tsar is about to be torn apart by the bloodshed of revolution. Ousted from the imperial palace when the Bolsheviks seize control of the government, Anastasia and her family are exiled to Siberia. But even while the rebels debate the family's future with agonizing slowness and the threat to their lives grows more menacing, romance quietly blooms between Anastasia and Sasha, a sympathetic young guard she has known since childhood. But will the strength of their love be enough to save Anastasia from a violent death?
Inspired by the mysteries that have long surrounded the last days of the Romanov family, Susanne Dunlap's new novel is a haunting vision of the life-and love story-of Russia's last princess.

I'll admit, I've had this on my radar for some time, mostly because I'm about a month away from giving birth to our daughter whom we've named after the youngest Russian princess/duchess, so anything with the name Anastasia in it tends to capture my attention.

In spite of my love of all things Romanov, this book fell a little flat for me. The premise of the story is that Anastasia had a romantic liaison before her death at the age of 17 (the author imagines a young guard as the boy in question). However the whole situation regarding the romance seemed very unrealistic and implausible. The author sets up the story and atmosphere of turn of the century Russian nicely and you can tell she's really done her research regarding the parts that have a basis in actual history. When it comes to the imagined parts regarding the romance though, it just doesn't seems to fit. Sasha and Anastasia never seem to have a believable reason why they would get together (the author doesn't really have them together often enough to explain why they like each other), but I can almost forgive that seeing as how Anastasia was guarded and sheltered most of her life and I can believe that she would fall for the first boy that she got to know beyond an acquaintance level. However, the other aspects aren't believable either. I can see her slipping away to see Sasha before the family was placed under house arrest during the revolution, but afterwards I don't buy it; the family was heavily guarded and I find it hard to believe that Anastasia was able to be alone with a random solider undetected long enough for hanky panky. That and the fact that people know how Anastasia's story ends, I find it hard to believe that she or her love interest would allow her to meet such an end like Sasha did...and if she really loved anyone in a romantic way I think she would've tried to escape given the chance like in the book. It almost seems as if this story would have been better off as more fiction than historical based, where the author writes it so that Anastasia actually survived and went off into the sunset with said romantic interest and lived happily ever after or however they want to word it.

If you like novels based on the Romanov family, you might want to skip this one. The writing and setting are well done, but the romance angle doesn't really seem plausible at any point, and there are better novels with different plot lines out there that work better as an historical fiction piece.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the look of the model but probably would've liked if they'd picked someone who actually looked like the real Anastasia. The details like the lace on the dress and the pearl necklace are nice touches though.

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).