Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

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Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Powerful, claustrophic and shocking, this book deals with the biggest taboo of all: sibling incest. It's beautifully written and beautifully handled - absorbing and poignant, it's highly recommended for teens unafraid to grapple with difficult issues.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Definitions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1862308160

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Maya is sixteen, pretty, sociable and wise beyond her years. But she's never been kissed. Lochan is seventeen, drop-dead gorgeous and most of the girls at his school have crushes on him. He's also highly intelligent, at the top of his class and heading off to a good London university and on the cusp of a bright future. But he's never kissed a girl. You'd think then, that when these two teenagers kiss for the first time, it would be the beginning of a gorgeous first love affair, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. Because Maya and Lochan are brother and sister...

I was very keen to read Forbidden. Mostly because I'm always eager to see how any fiction, but particularly teen fiction, engages with taboo subjects. And it doesn't come more taboo than sibling incest. But also, more specifically, because it had happened during my childhood - between a brother and sister who were neighbours of my grandmother. A background of failing or absent parents was very similar to Forbidden. I was at my grandmother's one day; one of her friends had arrived for the usual tea-and-gossip sessions and the friend brought it up. My grandmother cut her dead with such force - it is not edifying to pick over the manifestation of someone's pain and desperation she said - that I have never forgotten it, right down to her exact words. I don't think she was saying the subject was verboten per se, just the people. So how do we discuss the taboo? Vicariously, through fiction, seems an admirable start.

And Suzuma has made an incredibly powerful contribution to the debate. Lochan and Maya have never really been brother and sister. With an absent father and a mother who wilfully neglects them in favour of a search for bygone youth, a man, and freedom to hit the bottle, the two teenagers have acted as partners and parents to their three younger siblings for five years - long before they even hit puberty. They've had to hide their home circumstances from the outside world out of an all-consuming fear of social services and children's homes, and so they've only ever had one another to turn to. Lochan, in particular, has suffered. Crippled by anxiety and nerves, he can barely even talk outside the home. School is a nightmare despite his academic talent and - apart from Maya - he's utterly friendless. So is it so very surprising that their flooding adolescent hormones find an outlet in a sibling? The sibling who is the only other person on the planet that they can fully trust? No, it isn't.

Told in a turn-and-turn-about dual narrative, readers can see the full turmoil in both Lochan and Maya. They can see the desperate need, but they can also see the doubt, the worry, and yes, the self-disgust too. They try to put a stop to things several times but, with no escape from the pressure cooker of their home environment, neither can do it. They can't manage alone.

So, suddenly, the reader is rooting for this star-crossed couple. And that is a tremendously shocking thing to find yourself doing. It forces you to confront some very difficult feelings. It can't end well, of course, and I cried floods of tears at the inevitable denouement. Is sibling incest always wrong? Well, personally, I'm going to have to say yes. There is a reason almost all human societies have rejected it and while that reason is probably based on prehistoric genetic drivers, we are still left with relationships that cause too much confusion and too many problems. That doesn't mean the people involved are wrong though - and this is the critical point that Suzuma makes and that my grandmother made too, all those years ago.

This is a brave and important book. And I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it was to write it. Bravo.

My thanks to the good people at Definitions for sending it to me.

Incest - but not sibling incest - is also a theme in Set in Stone by Linda Newbery, a wonderfully Gothic novel, set at the turn of the century. Suzuma's own From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma has a deeply sympathetic central character who is as tortured as Lochan. Meet Me At The Boathouse by Suzanne Bugler is about an altogether different but equally dangerous adolescent love affair.

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