She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen, gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they’ve fallen in love. But… They are brother and sister.
The first I heard about Forbidden was in the weekly Books I Adopted post over on Floor to Ceiling Books. I was intrigued at once. How on earth would one make this subject work? How could you write about this subject in a non-icky way, by which I mean not feeling wrong, at least for the characters, without making it seem alright? Once I read Amanda’s review posted a few weeks later, I knew I had to read this book, if only to find out how and if Ms Suzuma makes it work.
Make it work she does, however. She pulls it off in grand style. Suzuma has a pleasant writing style, which reads easily, even though the book isn’t an easy read because of the subject matter. Apart from the subject of consensual incest, the way the kids are treated by their parents and especially their mother infuriated me. To such an extent, that I found myself yelling at the book anytime their mother showed up.
Because of their parents’ abandonment, Lochan and Maya are forced to function as parents and from sharing everything as partners do, the leap to a relationship isn’t that weird, psychologically speaking. It doesn’t happen overnight, not even in the book, but it’s something that grows organically, even when that made my skin crawl to see it happen, as the reader. The fact that they even refer to the younger three siblings as ‘the kids’, shows how much of a unit Lochan and Maya have become.
The plight of the kids and their situation actually horrified me more than the fact that they fell in love. All five kids are victims of a situation that no child should ever be put in. Suzuma handles the subject with sensitivity. While writing what is essentially a love story, she never once condones incest. She lets the characters in the book give the arguments for and against. The shifting narration between Lochan and Maya is deftly done, showing the inner turmoil of these two and their reasoning behind their decisions. At critical points though, I did find myself talking to the book, going ‘no, no, don’t do it!’, and hoping that they wouldn’t take that next step, that they’d steer away from the abyss.
The story stays with you. At one point I found myself biking home from work, thinking about the book and asking myself: ‘Now she’s got us there, how on earth is she going to get us out?’ I just couldn’t see a way out of the situation Maya and Lochan had found themselves in. Of course Suzuma does get us out of it and with exquisite grace. The way out is tragic though, as naturally there can be no happy ending for a story such as Forbidden. In the second part of the novel the constant fear of discovery, not just of their incestuous relationship, but of the situation at home with the kids and no parents, which might prompt the Child Protection Agency to take the kids into care and split them up, not to mention send Lochan and Maya to jail for incest, creates a growing sense of dread. This makes for a very tense atmosphere in the last half of the book. And while I kept hoping that Lochan and Maya would come to their senses and realize that what they were doing was wrong and that they had to stop, I also found myself rooting for the kids to be able to stay together.
I loved the characterisation of the kids, especially Willa and Kit. While Willa is your typical adorable five-year old, she also shows the flashes of insight that are so typical of young children. And Kit, well anyone with a younger brother knows that Kit is spot on. Kit is also the one who broke my heart at the end of the book. His genuine sorrow and guilt are truly heart-rending.
All in all, Forbidden is a compelling story, which I read over the course of three evenings, having a hard time putting it down when the lights had to go out for bed. If you can go into it with an open mind, this book is a must read, regardless of the controversial subject matter. Although the book is classified as YA, I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers as the book contains some tough and (emotionally) shocking scenes.