Published by Definitions on May 27th 2010
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult
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 have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.
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 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’ve had to do a lot of thinking and self-reflecting to write this review. It is rare for a book to evoke such strong emotions in me. It left me speechless and heartbroken, and my thoughts wandered back to the story for a quite a while after I had finished it. Without a doubt this book could have been a train wreck, but instead I found a beautiful tale about two people that fell in love with each other in the worst circumstances imaginable. What hit me hardest about Forbidden was how well Tabitha Suzuma depicted the complete hopelessness of Lochan and Maya’s situation and the utter desperation they had to face. It isn’t a book that glamourizes or romanticises incest. It isn’t an angst filled novel about star-crossed lovers. The way I see it, it is a story about family, the danger of neglect, the weight of responsibility. It is a sad story for sure and one that will leave you thinking about taboo issues. On top of everything else and despite the parts that may be tough to get through, I found the novel addicting and impossible to put down.
The story follows a British family living in London. The Dad doesn’t live there anymore, he moved to Australia with his new wife and never even bothers to contact his children. Then we have the mother, a drunk who spends all her days away from home with her new boyfriend and barely makes enough money to support the family. And then there are the five children: Lochan, the oldest son and de facto care-taker of the family, Maya who is only a year younger then him and helps support the family, and the three youngsters: Kit, Tiffin and Willa. Lochan and Maya have always had a relationship that is different from that of your average siblings; they support each other and basically share parenting roles the way a couple would. And so it seems almost inevitable that feelings between them develop.
Before I go any further let me give you a short breakdown of my inner dialogue while reading this book (you’re going to think I’m the strangest person on the planet, lol):
Chant #1: Okay, this is seriously weird.
Chant #2: No! I love it, they have SO much chemistry!
# 1: They are brother and sister, there is no such thing as sexual chemistry between siblings.
# 2: Well clearly you’re wrong because these two definitely have it. I wish more new adult books would have such a slow-burn romance.
# 1: Slow-burn romance?! What are you talking about? It’s disgusting!
# 2: But they are so cute together! I’m totally rooting for them.
# 1: Um, you do know what they’re doing is against the law, right?
# 2: I know. And I know that Suzuma isn’t trying to say that incest is okay, but maybe it is something we have to think about. To question. There are different types of love and they diverge from the norm but what is so wrong about that? If they don’t have children and both are consenting…
# 1: It’s just…not right! It’s disgusting and sick and creepy…
# 2: But why is it wrong? Do you have an answer? They aren’t hurting anyone, they’re happy together, so why is it considered so unthinkable that it’s against the law?
# 1: …
I will fully admit that maybe (probably) it was easier for me to get over what Maya and Lochan were doing because I’m an only child. It shouldn’t have been, and yet, I just couldn’t relate as much as some other readers may. But in any case, Forbidden is an excellently written book that doesn’t try to force on you some kind of moral message, yet still makes you question our societal norms. And that is worth a lot.
Lochan was a fantastic character. Well-developed and complex, he made me feel his pain and desperation and truly brought home the misery of the situation. He struggles with social anxiety and the empathy I felt for him was through the roof; all I wanted was for him to be all right, to not go crazy, to stay strong. He is deeply troubled and loathes himself and I think it is that self-hatred more than anything that made this novel so gut-wrenching and memorable.
In comparison, Maya falls surprisingly flat. I couldn’t really establish any connection; I cared much less about her than I did about her brother. She is your stereotypical good girl: pretty and popular, sweet and sensible, incredibly naïve. While we really got to witness Lochan’s inner turmoil, Maya displays none of the same “symptoms” and that made me think that she was either way too perfect, or seriously stupid. There is one scene in the book with Maya and her best friend Francie that made cringe: Francie is your typical contemporary best friend, meaning all she cares about are guys and it’s seemingly the only subject that she thinks about (I’m assuming it is to display how “pure” Maya is) and Francie comments on the fact that Maya is the only girl in the class that doesn’t wear make-up (but obviously she still gets the hottest guy in school to ask her out). It’s a very small thing but it bothered me to no end; I just really hate when authors put their female MC above all the other girls because they don’t wear make-up or short dresses or whatever.
Another character I loved was Kit. He was bratty and annoying but beneath that façade he was also very complex. I understood where he was coming from and the way he acted even if I didn’t agree with the way he showed his feelings.
Tiffin and Willa were plot devices more than fully fleshed out characters, but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
Another question mark I have is with the parents. I kind of struggled with the fact that two people could truly be that terrible. The father was described as being a kind and caring person and so I found it a little difficult to believe he would just abandon his children like that. Similarly, there wasn’t a single redeeming feature about the mother, she was horrible through and through. I’m aware that there are families out there just like that and my heart goes out to all those children who have to live with it every day. However, it’s just a trope that is overused in YA and NA and so it’s hard for me to swallow.
Overall though and despite my complaints I truly loved this book. It was raw and emotional and the ending was one of the best that I’ve ever read in any book. It was shocking and tragic and basically exactly what needed to happen. The epilogue was beautiful and perfectly rounded off the story.
I highly recommend this novel even though I know that it won’t be for everyone. I think that if you go into it with an open mind and judge too quickly, you will find something to cherish in this sad, unconventional story.