First Loves = Wicked Hard: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

A Review of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Simon Pulse, 2010

Forbidden Tabitha Suzuma

by REBECCA, March 25, 2013

characters

Lochan: between his crippling social anxiety, the responsibility of caring for his siblings, and the late-night studying he does to keep his grades up, Lochan is kind of a mess, and the only one he can count on is Maya.

Maya: Maya is friendly and upbeat, generally taking her family responsibility in stride, and she would do anything to protect Lochan.

Kit, Tiffin, & Willa: teen Kit has started to rebel and challenge Maya and Lochan’s authority, Tiffin only cares about playing soccer, and Willa knows more about secrets and lies than any five year old should have to.

note: I like this cover, especially the red background, which is an uneven wash, like red paint swiped over black, but . . . am I the only one who automatically assumes that any shape (here, a heart) that is made out of barbed wire automatically indicates that a book will be set during the Holocaust? Just me, then? . . .

hook

Lochan and Maya have been acting like parents to their younger sibs, Kit, Tiffin, and Willa, since their father left five years ago, working hard to keep their family from being split up. Only a year apart, they have always been best friends, partners.  Their mother, an alcoholic, has always been irresponsible and capricious, but now things are getting really bad. She is holed up across town with a younger man, trying to pretend she doesn’t have children, and has begun disappearing for weeks at a time without leaving any money for groceries or school uniforms. As their family spirals out of control, Lochan and Maya turn to each other for support and care, and begin to realize that their feelings of love are romantic as well as familial. Can they keep their family together and still have a chance to be together when everything seems to be against them?

worldview

Forbidden is set in contemporary, real-world London, and for Lochan, Maya, Kit, Tiffin, and Willa, that’s a world full of real-world material concerns: can they convince their mother to give them enough money for groceries before she spends it all on booze? whose turn it is to cook, clean, do laundry? will Lochan and Maya be able to convince Tiffin and Willa’s teachers to call them if there’s trouble, instead of their mom? how can they possibly find time to care for their siblings and still excel in school? and, perhaps most dire, how will Lochan and Maya ever be able to make others accept their relationship when half the time they can’t accept it themselves?

Forbidden Tabitha SuzumaTabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden is a beautifully-written excavation of family and romantic relationships and the ways they cannot help but impact one another. The character development is particularly well-done and Suzuma uses the length of the novel (about 450 pages) to show the intricacies of their relationships. Bit by bit, as their material conditions worsen, Lochan and Maya’s stress amps up, fraying their relationships with their siblings and drawing attention to them in ways that could be dangerous.  “I wonder how it is possible to hurt so much when nothing is wrong,” Lochan wonders (160). Suzuma is particularly deft in her use of these practical stressors to build suspense. Lochan, for example, has such social anxiety that he is unable to speak in school. The scenes in which he must do so are gutting reminders of his inability to express himself or communicate with people outside his family. Such scenes track Lochan’s relationship with Maya—the more he is able to express his feelings for her, the better able he is interface with the world, and vice versa.

Although there is suspense, and certainly dread—will the siblings be able to stay together? will anyone find out about Lochan and Maya’s relationship?—in terms of genre, Forbidden is strictly a realist novel. For all that it has the potential makings for a sprawling, gothic tale of incestuous siblings rioting in a rambling, run-down house, it doesn’t set even a toe in that genre.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

My friend A— told me she finds that there are books about incest that are trying to show how awful it is and books about incest that are trying to show that it can be ok, and that Forbidden is the latter. I absolutely agree. Between Lochan and Maya, they go through just about every feeling you can imagine on the subject: I am disgusting for feeling this way; I can’t help feeling this way; why shouldn’t I feel this way; people won’t understand; maybe there’s something truly wrong with me, etc. Indeed, upon occasion, their rehearsals of these arguments feel a bit more for the readers’ benefit than their own. Still, while Forbidden is the story of a deeply loving and caring consensual sibling relationship, it never attempts to suggest that there are not problems with Lochan and Maya’s relationships, even for them.

Forbidden Tabitha SuzumaOverall, I found Forbidden a deeply satisfying and beautiful novel that did everything I want contemporary realist YA to do. I think Forbidden dragged a tad in the last quarter and might benefit from losing a few repetitive scenes. I have only one real reservation, though—more of a suspicion, really. The narrative alternates between chapters from Lochan’s perspective and chapters from Maya’s and, while Lochan is a very specific, nuanced, unique character, Maya is significantly less so. As such, the chapters from Lochan’s perspective utterly captivated me, while those from Maya’s served more to move the story forward or, in their best moments, to give us more of a window on Lochan. Because of this marked difference, I found myself wondering whether Suzuma felt anxious about (or was advised against) telling the story from Lochan’s perspective alone because it could have had the possibility of making him seem predatory, or of causing the reader to doubt that Maya was truly a consensual partner in their romantic and sexual relationship. Lochan explains to Maya that people would always look at them and see that he is older and male and assume that he was taking advantage of her (“Maya, come on, think about it. I’d be automatically seen as the abuser and you as the victim” (361)). I got the sense from the uneven characterization of Lochan and Maya that perhaps Suzuma was concerned about just this issue. The dual perspective made the narrative a bit less effective for me, especially since, in the final quarter of the book (excepting the end), the alternation of perspective seems arbitrary, as if the story were just being split up evenly. That decrease in effectiveness added to my sense that perhaps there was a motivation for the decision beyond the formal. If anyone who has read Forbidden has thoughts on this, I would love to hear them in the comments.

readalikes

Hushed Kelley York

Hushed by Kelley York (2011). While the stories don’t have anything in common, Hushed is also the tale of the intense (and sometimes disturbing) power that relationships can have over us. Antisocial Archer’s childhood best friend, Vivian, manipulates him in more ways than even he is aware of. When Archer meets Evan, who seems to like him just for himself, he is torn between the draw of two powerful relationships. My full review is HERE.

The Brothers Bishop Bart Yates

The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates (2005). I love Bart Yates (my review of his YA novel, Leave Myself Behind is HERE). The Brothers Bishop is about two brothers who are very close but total opposites, forever connected by growing up under the thumb of their terrifying and infuriating father. Serious, misanthropic Nathan likes his privacy in the beach house he inherited. Outgoing golden boy, Tommy, draws people to him without even trying. When Tommy shows up for a weekend visit with his boyfriend and two friends, the brothers revisit family secrets and make catastrophic mistakes, all against the backdrop of the ocean that laps the nearby sand.

procured from: the library

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9 Comments

  1. This is great discussion. I haven’t read this book yet, but one of my regular library patrons recommended it highly and said that yes, the subject matter is kind of icky, but so well done, she still enjoyed the book. I’m not usually a fan of alternating perspective, but I can see how it could be a strategic choice in this case.

    • Yeah, alternating perspective has to be really well-done and to achieve a particular effect for me to like it. Sometimes it seems arbitrary and doesn’t really work. This was sort of an instance of neither of those. Still, though, really beautiful writing and character development. Can’t wait to hear what you think if you read it.

  2. weheartya

     /  March 26, 2013

    Thanks for the review. It offers some good insight into a book that we’ve heard a lot of back and forth about.

  3. A

     /  March 25, 2013

    I really agree with this review–I liked this novel a lot, but as I was reading I did find Maya a thinner and less realistically drawn character than Lachlan (which was bothersome because she seemed to repeat all cliches about female desire, which are boring). I always assumed this was because the author was just more interested in Lachlan as a character, but I think the idea that she wanted to provide only Lachlan’s perspective but was worried about the reaction to it sounds like the right one to me. Thanks for the review!

    • Yeah, agreed, A; it’s not that I wanted to be convinced that Maya was worth loving (which is what some of Lochan’s thoughts about her felt like), I just wanted Maya to be as specific of a character of Lochan. Thanks for reading!

  4. I agree with every single thing you wrote in your review about this book. When I first heard about Forbidden, I didn’t want to read it; I didn’t know how I would be able to enjoy/get into a book that society had already shaped my view on. After a while, I told myself that I needed to read it. Not only did it sound interesting, but isn’t life about being taken out of your comfort zone?

    I found Forbidden to be very, very good. It’s well written and gripping and it changed my view on relationships like their’s.

    Although many have read this novel, I also believe that many will not due to the ‘content.’ A lot of people aren’t ready or interested in reading this book because it does have an incestuous relationship. But I think this book needs to be read more. It opens minds and gets people thinking…

    Absolutely wonderful review!

    • Thanks so much, lostinbelieving! Yeah, I think one of the dangers of “issue books” is that they can turn people off who might think that the issue is the point of the book. So glad you enjoyed it.

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