Monday, July 4, 2011

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma — 464 pgs

ForbiddenSeventeen year old Lochan and his sister Maya, who is a year younger, have a very difficult life. Since their mother has for all intents and purposes abandoned her family, the two older teens are responsible for taking care of not only each other, but their three younger siblings. Lochan and Maya are not only beset by the pressures of raising a family while still attending high school, they are also socially adrift, and in Lochan’s case filled with a hefty dose of social anxiety. As the children’s mother drunkenly flits in and out of their lives, Lochan and Maya find themselves responsible for more and more of the younger children’s care. But raising children isn’t an easy job, what with 13 year old Kit becoming more and more of a delinquent and young Tiffin beginning to follow in Kit’s footsteps. Then there’s 5 year old Willa, darling and precocious but also demanding of a lot of time and attention. As Lochan and Maya are subsumed into their role of surrogate parents, they find themselves beginning to feel a strange love and attachment to one another and embark on a dangerous and illicit relationship that is not only severely taboo, but that consumes them and puts their entire family at risk. Refusing to give each other up and crossing more and more lines of normalcy and propriety than they ever imagined, Maya and Lochan become mired in a complicated web of emotion and physical hunger that will shatter not only their lives, but the lives of those that depend on them. Stunning in it’s implications and realities, Forbidden tackles a subject that is mired in controversy and shares the story of two teens who are in way over their heads.

When I saw this book reviewed over on Amy’s blog a few weeks ago, I was alternately a bit disgusted and fascinated. Incest isn’t a topic I’ve read much about, and due to social mores and ethics, not a lot of books seem to feature plots that center around this phenomenon either. It was an emotionally complex book to read, and where I did find the sections that dealt with the teenage brother and sister having to morph into parents due to the absence of their mother complex and interesting, the sections that dealt with the physical relationship between them were almost surreal. It was the kind of book that made me uncomfortable and fidgety, and even though I finished it in one sitting, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the book as a whole.

I think part of the reason the relationship between Maya and Lochan came about was due to the very abnormal situation they had going on at home. Their mother was a laughable excuse for an authority figure, and most of the time she appears on the page, she is drunk and acting irresponsibly. Lochan must constantly fight with her to support the family monetarily and all the children seem like they’re more emotionally balanced when she’s not there. This leaves a gaping hole where parental figures should be, and Lochan and Maya seem to step right in and become the surrogates that the family needs to survive. It’s interesting to note that the situation they are in doesn’t escape the two teenagers’ attention, and later, after they’ve embarked on a course of forbidden encounters, they question what part their strange family circumstances play in their ever widening spiral of unwholesome desire. As they begin to question the motives behind their desire, they admit to themselves that one component of it may have to do with their strange upbringing and continually fractured family life.

The sections that dealt head-on with the incest between Lochan and Maya seemed at times to be strangely romanticized, and for that reason, a lot of it was off-putting. Where one of them wanted to bound ahead physically, the other was much more concerned with the propriety and the illicit nature of the relationship. It was painful to read about just how much these two people desired each other and how wrong it was for them to do so. The situation reminded me a lot of the plight that the main characters in Flowers in the Attic faced, though here the practicalities seemed more dire and all-consuming. At certain points in the book, the two reflect on why what they are doing is wrong but they never seem to be able to stop themselves, and predictably they take their relationship past social norms and boundaries that eventually put them at great risk. It was all very… odd. Though I found their regard and passion for each other to be plausible, it just seemed so alien and strange that these two siblings were so carelessly crossing over the border into the taboo, especially when only one of them could see the danger. In the end, things begin to crumble rapidly between Lochan and Maya, forcing them to deal with their unwholesome desires in a very public way.

I’m not exactly sure what the point of this book was. Was it attempting to be titillating to the adolescent set, or was it more of a cautionary tale? Was it as uncomfortable for the author to create as it was for the observer to read? And why is it that this taboo is so formidable that even reading about it or contemplating it is so uncomfortable for most people? In the end, the matter of consensual incest is a topic that not only inflames and draws lines in the sand, but one that, in this book at least, provides a credible story that involves heartbreak, repression and guilt. It’s the kind of book that dares you to look away and makes you feel sort of squiky reading or discussing it. I can say that this book prompted a lot of conversation between my husband and myself, and that may be the point after all. Despite its exploration of these deeply socially abnormal behaviors, I would have to say the book was written in a respectful and unapologetic fashion.

Since this is a topic that’s not dealt with much in YA literature, I’m unsure as to whether or not to give a thumbs up to this particular book. I do think that if you’re interested in exploring this very alien topic this would be the book to go for. It takes a hard look at a subject that doesn’t get much play, and for good reason, I think. While the book made me uncomfortable at times, it also got me thinking about the issue in a different way and it challenged me on a moral as well as ethical level. So, in essence, I would have to say that this book, while being a little emotionally snarling at times, is definitely worth your time. A very unique and interesting read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

Beth F said...

Just because a book deals with a rarely-talked-about issue is not quite enough to give it high marks. The author has to deal with the issue in a meaningful way -- if you are left questioning the author's motives, then it seems to me that the author has not done a good job.

Sadly, I think incest may be more prevalent than most people think and I doubt it is often romantic.

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

I have seen this, Never thought to pick it up. I am kinds disturbed that they would make it seem dreamy almost to have such a relationship.

Amy said...

Great review, I keep hearing about this book and wanting to give it a read. I think any book that makes us think about something and challenge ourselves to articulate our thoughts and etc is good. I mean, morally preachy books aren't good, I think, I think it's better if the author can be subtle enough to make you think about it. Interesting discussion!

TheBookGirl said...

I seem to remember reading last year about a book that tackled the same issue and generated alot of talk, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.
If I'm honest, I don't think this is a book I would read; it is all too unsettling to me, but I understand why it would be one to provoke alot of discussion, which is always a good thing.

What concerns me about a book like this is, as you point out, the potential for titillation amongst less mature readers. I'm assuming that this was marketed as a YA novel? That may be fine for the older end of the YA spectrum, but the thought of this being read by younger kids, who may not feel comfortable talking about what they are reading with their parents, is troubling to me.

Sandy Nawrot said...

There are so many wonderful books out there, I don't think I have a need to read about brother/sister incest! Especially when it is romanticized. I got plenty of that with the Flowers series in high school...

Audra said...

Very nice review -- I appreciated your honest tone about a clearly provocative subject! This reminds me of the VC Andrews books as others have mentioned -- probably meant to titillate and shock. Not my tastes, but certainly folks enjoy the illicit and shocking.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Last year I read How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, which depicts a romantic relationship between first-cousins, and that totally creeped me out. However, I have a tendency to read these "issue" type books so I think I'll still pick up Forbidden one of these days. It's interesting to know how mixed your feelings were... just the idea of a brother/sister romance freaks me out so I can imagine I will have issues with the book itself!

Aths said...

Loved your thoughtful review. I have been hesitant about this one because of the subject matter, but I applaud the author in writing about it, even if the purpose of the book is eventually unclear. I read an indirect mention of incest in another book recently and was very disappointed that that author didn't straight out mention it.

Suko said...

Another thoughtful review! This topic sounds like it would be very difficult to write about. I'm not sure I could stomach this one.

Jenny said...

The first thing I thought of was Flowers in the Attic which also made me feel uber uncomfortable. I definitely don't think this book is for me just because of the topic alone.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

That's the critical question, it seems to me, i.e., what is the point the author is trying to make? It could be trying to bring to light something that actually happens? Or to cause people to think about taboos and what they mean? Or is it a metaphor? I guess I have to read it! It all seems very interesting to me. Have entered it on one of my numerous yellow stickies that pepper my desk! :--)

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like this book tackles some rather disturbing issues, that would make most people squirm. It does seem that there needs to be a point to the story to make it work, though.

Meghan said...

I'm not sure this one's for me. I'm okay with disturbing issues, usually, but the idea of incest portrayed in a romantic light makes me feel a bit ill. I'll have to see if it's available at the library.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I've come across quite a few reviews of this, so far and none have yet convinced me totally to read it. I think it's sort of a strange topic for me to think about so I haven't really gotten there, yet. Hmmm...

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I think I would find this one too disturbing, but you did a great job with the review of such a tough topic.

Jenny said...

I hate incest in books. I haven't read that many books with incest in them, but when I have, it's been very disturbing. I try to steer clear, and I definitely don't need it in my YA. Of course I am presently engaged in reading the Song of Ice and Fire series, much of the first book of which hinges on the brother-sister incest between two of the characters.

Robin McCormack said...

Must have been a difficult review to write. Doesn't sound like a book I would particularly enjoy.

Amy said...

I felt like her ultimate point was that you can't really know what's going through someone's mind or what their exact circumstances are when you judge. I do think it was romanticized, but it really made me think about WHY I have the ideas about incest I do and to consider how it affects people actually in those relationships.

I think this book really has made a lot of people think, though, from all over the spectrum and in that regard it's quite successful even if as a work of art it's not.

Marg said...

I have read your review twice now, and I am pretty sure that I couldn't read this book without have a terrible strong reaction to it.

Geosi said...

I have read reviews of this book and have looks like have received mixed reactions. I doubt if I may go in for this now. Perhaps, much, much later.

Amy said...

This book sounds disturbing, fascinating and very sad to me. It also makes me wonder how many situations like this are occuring out in the world. It doesn't surprise me that much that Lochan and Maya end up in an incestual relationship since they are put in a strange position at home acting as mom and dad to their younger siblings. They don't have the time or focus to be with friends and meet people their age to date and spend time with. What really strikes me is their awareness that what they're doing isn't natural and they shouldn't do it. I guess I would have thought the stress of their home situation and the grom, despairing atmosphere might have made them a little weird or nutty and, hence, confused about what they're doing. But now that I say that, it's sort of a cop out!

I wonder why the author didn't make it more clear her reason for writing this book. I don't like the idea that it's just to tittillate the adolescent set and hope that's not it, though I think it's a good point you raise.
Thank you for reviewing this book :o)

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