Review of “Forbidden” by Tabitha Suzuma

This is a very interesting book in both the “regular” and the “meta” senses, in that it seems as if many readers react to this story of brother and sister incest based mainly on their feelings about incest, not on the story per se.

Five children live basically alone and unsupervised, since their immature and alcoholic mother is either drunk or off nightclubbing with potential husbands who are not interested in children. It falls to the two oldest, Lochan, 17 and Maya, 16, to do the caretaking for the family. In addition to going to school themselves, they must see to it that Willa (5), Tiffin (8), and Kit (13) get fed, clothed, disciplined, entertained, and paid the proper attention to thrive. Lochan and Maya, only thirteen months apart, have always been close, but since their father left five years earlier and the caretaking got dumped in their hands, they have become virtually a marital unit. Suddenly as they mature, their feelings turn sexual.

Suzuma spends a great deal of time showing Lochan and Maya, who narrate in alternate chapters, agonizing over their feelings for one another. They also agonize over their desires to express their feelings physically. (Personally, I would have edited it a bit. We get the idea they are torn up about it, and the constant repetition is not needed.) Finally, they can hold off no more, and the consequences are explosive.

Evaluation: This isn’t a perfect story. Besides being overly repetitive, the characterizations are a bit unrealistic. I can buy the evil of the mother much more than the consistent saintliness and self-sacrifice of teenagers Lochan and Maya. Kit, the thirteen-year-old, who is selfish, petulant, and resentful, seems much more true-to-life.

Is it believable that Lochan and Maya get involved with one another?

I don’t see why not. They have no time to get out, and they can’t have people over, what with their mother absent or (worse) passed out in a state of dishabille. They have to work together to bring up the younger kids and make decisions together about their care. They live in a household full of secrets, which makes the inhabitants closer to one another than to outsiders. In addition to being exhausted, dispirited, and close to mental breakdowns, at the same time they are both apparently quite attractive, and they are teenagers with surging hormones.

Am I shocked or turned off that they love each other?

Nah. I think societies are too hung up on who other people love, whether it happens to involve same sex, same families, different races, or different religions. Personally I would prefer to see societies more obsessed with preventing war and hate, than with preventing love and marriage.

Do I recommend this book?

Holy cow, yes! Even with its flaws, the potential it offers for challenging your notions of right and wrong and for stimulating conversations is amazing. (And one of my big questions would be: if the couple doesn’t have children, is there any reason to maintain the taboo? Why or why not?) I predict totally awesome book club meetings with this provocative read!

But did I agree with how everything turned out?

I hated the ending! I couldn’t tell if the author was trying to make a point, and if so, if it was a positive or negative one.

Rating: 3.5/5

Note: I did not consider this book titillating. While it may not be appropriate for tweens, it’s all about the angst, not the amore.

Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011

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27 Responses to Review of “Forbidden” by Tabitha Suzuma

  1. Care says:

    Can we say ‘CHARGED’,perhaps? Wow, sounds like quite a story. And I appreciate your thoughts on it and agree with your preference –> ” to see societies more obsessed with preventing war and hate, than with preventing love and marriage.”

  2. June says:

    Gee…I didn’t notice the repetition at all. I guess I feel that’s the focus of the story, the constant and prevalent torment, sexual feelings for a sibling incur. The ending was a major downer, but as a therapist, I know people can react in ways that are extreme.

    Thanks for passing me the link to the cover shoot for Fever! That was cool.

    • June,

      I totally agree that in real life, there would be constant and prevalent torment, but I thought for the sake of art, so to speak, we could have done with less constant and prevalent iteration of it! :–) You know, just have it summarized or stated as a constant fact of their existence….

  3. On my book shelf just waiting to be read. Very intriguing.

  4. Barbara says:

    Now there’s a hot topic for a novel! In their situation it’s difficult to see how it wouldn’t happen. After all, they are living like married adults with children. I agree with you that this would make for an interesting book club meeting. I can just imagine the different viewpoints.

  5. amymckie says:

    Thanks for this review. I keep meaning to pick up a copy of the book.

  6. Staci says:

    I read a book much like this one…Flowers in the Attic!! 😀
    Sounds like a good read actually!!

  7. Sandy says:

    Ah hell, I really don’t know what to say about this. Taboo or no, I have a son and daughter and the thought makes me want to throw up. Did the author want some shock value here? I’m sure. I got plenty of that with Flowers in the Attic! I can see where book clubs would spontaneously combust with this one.

  8. zibilee says:

    I think you really make some good points here, Jill, and like Sandy, I think part of the reason that I reacted so strongly is that I have kids this age and the thoughts racing through my head when I read this were very uncomfortable. I also wonder about the realities and acceptableness of these types of relationships if children are not involved, and though I wouldn’t agree with the choices that the two made, I think the ending was just crazy. I can’t imagine the scenario working out that way, especially when the reader could see why they got into this predicament in the first place. I would think that that might have been taken into consideration by those who were speculating. It was a book that made me think though. I am not exactly sure if I would want my kids reading this one at this point in time!

  9. BermudaOnion says:

    I can see why this would make a great book to discuss because incest is such a taboo subject. You’ve got me VERY curious about the ending.

  10. EL Fay says:

    I’m a pretty tolerant person but I’m gonna have to give a big HELL NO to incest. Especially between parent and child because of the power dynamics involved. People arguing that Columbia professor David Epstein shouldn’t be charged for having sex with his daughter have obviously never heard of child grooming.

    This sums up how I feel.

    • See, but here’s the thing. With a brother and sister only thirteen months apart and in love, this was consensual. There were no power relationships or force issues (in fact, the girl was the stronger of the two). So the question is what about love between two sort of equals?

      • EL Fay says:

        From what I’m reading in your review, this “relationship” grew out of a situation of abuse and neglect and is yet another symptom of how fucked up this family is. In fact, by arguing that it’s healthy, it seems to me that you’re minimizing the damage done to these children. I highly doubt these two would have “fallen in love” under normal circumstances.

        And don’t tell me you’re just adding a second kind of love to your relationship. That’s like adding a second kind of life to your body. When a second kind of life grows in your body, we call it cancer. That’s what incest is: cancer of the family.

        • I don’t think I’m arguing it’s healthy, just that it’s not the same as intra-family rape. But I do think that all “taboos” are worth re-examining. We used to think love between two different races was taboo and unthinkable, or between two people of the same gender. I think it’s worth looking at where the taboos come from and how they got to be there in the first place. I admit it doesn’t seem “healthy” to me, but I’ve been indoctrinated very heavily in that direction. So I welcome this book’s spur to get me to engage in some introspection on that.

          • Couldn’t have said it better myself Jill, this is exactly how I felt about the book–I welcomed it prodding me to think about something i hadn’t and I learned rather quickly it’s more common than we might think.

            • I feel the need to leave a spoilery comment pursuant to ELFay’s comments:

              I think these kids were in an awful situation. They had a mother like Casey Anthony in real life, and they were very psychologically damaged. They turned to each other, almost in desperation. They hurt so much, and they hurt from the solution they came up with. But – spoiler spoiler spoiler – instead of getting psych or social assistance, they got treated as criminals and it ended in jail and suicide. After it was all over, the Casey-Mom went back to her partying ways. There was no justice in this book, at either end!

  11. Melody says:

    This would absolutely make a great book club read! I look forward to reading it soon!

  12. celawerd says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  13. ok, maybe I am just less tolerant, but I am afraid that I have absolutely no desire to read a book where incest is at the center.
    and I am fine with that.

  14. Alyce says:

    I read the first forty pages via a link from Shelf Awareness and then have been trying to find the book everywhere. I ended up having my husband request it through inter-library loan at his library. I really want to read the rest of the book and see what happens. 🙂

  15. Margot says:

    Well, the comments were as interesting as your post. You opened an interesting topic. I too don’t really care what people do behind closed doors. It’s none of my business. The major criminal in this story is the mother. That kind of behavior is what we should really be upset about.

  16. stacybuckeye says:

    Hmm. I agree that people should be allowed to love who they want. That doesn’t mean that I have to be comfortable with it. I do agree with Margot about the mother being the villain here, but I still can’t quite wrap my head around incest, consensual or not. Just when I think I’m pretty open-minded you have to go and challenge me!

    • Stacy,
      What you and Margot say is so true. In this case, for example, society comes down on the brother and sister but the mother gets off scot free, with no one judging her at all for all the chaos (to put it mildly) that she caused.

  17. Jenners says:

    I’ll be curious what kinds of reactions you get to this review!! : )
    This reminds me a bit of that Linda Gillard book about incest (well, only in that it was another book about brother-sister incest. You don’t see that often). I must say that this does seem to create a more believable “reason” for them to become involved in this way. And for some reason, a relationship between “peers” (brother/sister) than incest with a father/daughter seems more understandable. I should just shut up now before I get myself in trouble.

  18. Have you read the review on Dear Author? She really took the book apart..but I think I feel more like you did about it. 😉

  19. Julie P. says:

    I do think this sounds like a discussion worthy book. That can be a good thing!

  20. Ceri says:

    “I think societies are too hung up on who other people love, whether it happens to involve same sex, same families, different races, or different religions. Personally I would prefer to see societies more obsessed with preventing war and hate, than with preventing love and marriage.”

    YES. This!

    I think as long as it’s consensual and an adult isn’t taking advantage of a child, there isn’t anything wrong with who has feeliings for whom.

    Loved your review on this. You’re so open-minded and I think that’s exactly what you need with themes like this.

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