Forbidden was recommended to me by my awesome friend Ree over at Literary Obsession. I was well aware of the topic of the book before I requested it in from my local library and if you’re at all sensitive or easily offended than this book (and this review) is definitely not for you.
Forbidden is the story of seventeen year old Lochan and his younger-by-thirteen-months sister Maya. It’s a duel narrative, usually alternating chapters and we start with Lochan. Ever since he was 12, he’s been the man of the house. That’s when his father walked out, leaving him the eldest male caring for Maya, their younger brother Kit (now 13), another brother Tiffin (now 8 ) and baby of the family, sister Willa who is 5. Their mother is suffering some sort of mid-life crisis – faced with a family she never really wanted, now abandoned by her former husband, she works in a restaurant-type thing and dates the boss, Dave. She’s rarely, if ever, home and when she is, she’s either getting herself tarted up to go out, or she’s sleeping off her hangover. The bulk of the care of the three younger children falls to Lochan and Maya, who cook, clean, get them ready for school, pick them up from school, see that they do their homework and tuck them in at night.
It’s exhausting, and Lochan, who is intelligent and could escape to a far-away university soon has made the sacrifice to apply locally so that he’ll always be around to help look after the children. He and Maya are so close, the gap between them so small that they are more like best friends, soul mates, rather than siblings. They juggle their own school work with getting the kids off to school, trying to make sure they eat enough, trying to get enough money out of their absent mother to pay the bills, trying to deal with Kit, who has joined a local gang and is rarely ever home, their ultimate goal being not to arouse the suspicion of school or welfare authorities lest they get split up. That is not an option – they’re a family and they’re staying together.
When you’re thrust into roles that you’re not really emotionally equipped for, or that you’re lacking the maturity to deal with, the lines get blurred. Lochan and Maya have always been close, but now it feels like it’s more. It’s them against everyone else, them trying to parent their three younger siblings as well as just trying to be teenagers. Lochan, painfully shy, has no friends and cannot talk to anyone in school. Maya is the only person who knows him, the only one he can confide in. Before long he is having forbidden thoughts…and he’s not the only one. Maya is feeling the same way, even though they know what they are feeling is wrong.
If it’s wrong, then why can’t they stop? Why does it feel right to them?
I know I said it up there ^^ but I’ll say it again – this book is definitely not for the faint-hearted. And although it’s YA I’d say that it’s best reserved for older or more mature YA readers. It deals with some complex issues and also, it’s quite graphic. One of the more graphic YA novels I’ve read and considering the book is dealing with a growing sexual relationship between a brother and sister, it does require a certain amount of open-mindedness. That’s not to say that it isn’t disturbing subject matter – it is. Nor am I condoning the sort of relationship depicted in the book. But in order to understand it, you have to to be willing to try and get into the mind of the two main characters.
The thing that makes this book work is the writing and characterisation. Suzuma has excelled in creating a character in Lochan that is sympathetic and vulnerable, admirable and likable. He’s shy, so far beyond shy that I almost can’t think of a word to describe him. He can’t speak to anyone other than his sister without stuttering and blushing and he is actually incapable of speaking in front of the class. He has panic attacks and a social phobia that is so well written I almost had a panic attack myself whilst reading about one of his. He’s also mature beyond his years in the way he’s trying to keep his family together, taking on more responsibility than anyone should ever have to at his age. He does so much around the house, trying to both parent his younger brothers and sisters and be there for them as a sibling as well. It’s a hard task, made all the more difficult by the fact that these kids are damaged. Damaged by the abandonment of their father, damaged by the neglect of their mother. What they need is to be loved and cared for by the two people that created them and instead they’re raising themselves. It’s actually heartbreaking.
It’s no surprise, reading this book, that Maya and Lochan get their lines blurred. They slip into the roles of parents themselves, trying to shoulder so much. They’re not sleeping enough, they’re working hard in school and trying so hard to make sure that no one finds out that their mother hasn’t been seen in weeks. They’re also close (beyond close) and given that they’re teenagers and seem to lack a certain sort of social awareness, their progression into a relationship that goes beyond what it should comes across as natural. It’s saying something for the writing that it can feel this way to a reader. The other thing that I think helps is that Maya is most often (if not always) the aggressor. Being younger, and also female, it seems easier to read than if Lochan was the aggressor, persuading her into it. Lochan is the voice of reason most often, struggling against it and it is Maya who manages to convince him and persuade him at almost every turn.
It’s not hard to know going into this book that it can’t end well. Incest is illegal, consensual or otherwise (a law that stands both in England, the country in which this book takes place, in my country and presumably many others) and it’s not something that you can imagine a happy ever after for. However the ending of this book still took me by surprise and I found it heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to care for these characters, who have been through so much and had the authority figures in their lives fail so spectacularly in their duty of care towards them. The end of this book left me reeling emotionally and I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since.
If you think you can get past the subject matter than boy is Forbidden well worth the read. The writing is superb – this family is well crafted, it’s nothing that no one hasn’t seen before in a way – poor families with absent and uncaring parents exist everywhere all over the world. The dynamic between all of the siblings is incredible and the relationship between Lochan and Maya, while not the norm is so well constructed and executed that you just want to help them and shoulder some of the load they have been forced to carry.
Will be tracking down Suzuma’s other books – she has at least four other novels that I know of and I want to read them all.
Book #144 of 2011