New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Welcome to New to You!

This idea came along last year when I was supporting Lauren Miller’s newest book All Things New and I asked Kelsey to read and review Parallel, a book I have read more than once. I didn’t really get it going until December when I offered people the chance to sign up to read and review a book that has been a favorite of mine that they have never read. I got a great response and I’m happy to tell you (minus January) you will see a New to You post twice a month.

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Next up for New to You CJ from Sarcasm and Lemons. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous when I assigned this book to her. It is heartbreaking and a gorgeous story, but the subject matter is a hard sell. Honestly I have never recommend Forbidden to anyone because it isn’t a book that you can tell someone to read, they have to want to read it because it is high disturbing. But when CJ was the only one that selected it as an option, my warning included) I knew she was the right person. Let’s see what she had to say about a book that tore me to pieces:

New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha SuzumaForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Published by Simon Pulse
on June 28, 2011
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Perfect for readers who enjoyed Flowers in the Attic, this is a heartbreaking and shocking novel about siblings Lochan and Maya, their tumultuous home life, and the clandestine, and taboo, relationship they form to get through it.

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 de facto 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.

Family Dysfunction is an Understatement

If I had to reduce my thoughts to a sentence, I think it would mostly be facial expressions. FORBIDDEN is a slow burning, heart wrenching book. There’s something a little old fashioned about the writing, something a bit V.C. Andrews or Nancy Drew, and it’s difficult to place it in any particular time. Entering it is almost entering another world. Even the characters speak with a poetic gravity. But all this gives a timelessness to the story of two hapless lovers, who happen to be brother and sister.

It’s no easy read. I found myself alternately hand-wringing and squirming and placing my hand to my heart throughout. You can’t help but sympathize with Lochan and Maya’s impossible situation, even as a very deep part of you feels nauseated by a relationship you’ve been programmed to revile. It’s a complicated story with no easy moral statements, no clear answers, and although the slow pacing made for some languorous skimming at times, the relationship between Maya and Lochan–and its startling conclusion–left me deeply mired in thought. It’s a book worth talking about.

Romeo and Juliet Had it Good

Our story opens on the Whitley family. Just from the set-up, you know this is going to be a Family Drama. The mother never wanted children and is scarcely at home; most of her time is spent playing cougar with her boyfriend. The father has gone to Australia and never calls. Teens Lochan and Maya are forced to play siblings and parents both to delinquent Kit, hyperactive Tiffin, and sweet naive little Willa. I often found myself raging at their mother, but also knowing that she’s the kind of person who would never take responsibility–which made me rage more, and also feel quite protective of the characters.

In this environment, it’s no wonder the result is a strange relationship between Lochan and Maya. I’m not sure if Suzuma meant to write it as a pure, sweet love; perhaps because of my background, I read it as unhealthily co-dependent. There’s an aspect of Heathcliff and Cathy in it. They cling to each other, fiercely enmeshed in their own world, isolated from others by fear and choice, parentified by the lack of an adult figure. They are everything to each other. I found it a little shocking how quickly they grow used to the idea of their romantic relationship–I would have expected some more hesitancy initially. But perhaps that’s part of the tragedy. It was a strange feeling, finding myself sometimes rooting for them, sometimes sickened, sometimes horrified and overwhelmed by the pathos of their abnormality. It made me want to do research, which is always a good sign that a book has made me think. I think the ending really underscored the tragedy of it all: in this world, their romance is abomination. Should it be? Was it a phase? Was there another way? Are we supposed to support them or assume they need therapy?

The best part of the book was its portrayal of depression and anxiety. I’ve rarely read such a thorough, accurate description as Lochan’s. He suffers from extreme social anxiety, to the point of having intense panic attacks at school when forced to speak to anyone. He also experiences soul-crushing depression, tinged with hopelessness and marked by the occasional outbursts of temper and self-harm. His POV chapters are electric and claustrophobic with the feeling of being trapped and beset on all sides. By contrast, I thought Maya was a bit fluffy. She’s the one who immediately accepts their relationship, sees it as them against the world. Her personality seems less distinct. Lochan was her whole world, and I couldn’t help but feeling the horror of that, and knowing it wouldn’t end well.

That Ending Though

Whatever you think of the sibling relationship, you’d have no soul if the ending didn’t give you pause. I admit, I didn’t see it coming. Not because it didn’t make sense, but because the last few chapters are so frenetic and fraught after a period of seeming contentment that it comes as a slap in the face. I was left with so many questions, for myself and the world. How could such an attraction like this occur? Was it the neglect of their circumstances? Would they have grown out of it? Is it wrong for society to see it as wrong if it’s two consenting parties? Am I wrong for being disturbed? Despite my hangups with the pacing and tone, I’m glad I read FORBIDDEN. It’s always good to be thrust out of your comfort zone and to question everything you’ve accepted as true. I have a feeling I’ll think of this one for a long time.

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Thanks CJ for signing up for New to You. I promise, you are right, you will think about this book for a long time. I read it in 2011 and I still find myself thinking about it.

Have you ever read anything with a disturbing subject matter? How do you feel about recommending it?

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1 Comment

  1. This book many me SO uncomfortable, and honestly, I didn’t think her writing sold me completely on the story. But I will agree that it sticks with you!

    I haven’t recommended this one, but there is one I do recommend called THE STORYTELLER. It’s dark, but doesn’t have anything to do with incest, per se.

    Glad you read this one, CJ!

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