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.
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