Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan have never had the chance to be 'normal'. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have had to become much more than simply brother and sister. And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences... How can something so wrong feel so right?
I have to be honest and say that when I first read the summary to this story I really had no desire to read it at all. If it weren’t for the fact that it came highly recommended by Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss), I don’t think I would have given this book a second thought. Boy what I would have missed out on! Terrific writing by Tabitha Suzuma, who conveys the right emotions throughout the two main characters’ struggles without going over the top. I think quite difficult to do with a subject matter so taboo that you tend to throw caution to the wind and just write the shit out of it. But Suzuma displays a concerted control in telling this story, the pacing is perfect and the slow unraveling doesn’t prolong the story unnecessarily.
The story centers on the tag team points of view from Maya and Lochan Whitely, the eldest siblings of five who are grossly neglected by their mostly absentee mother. Their mother’s despicable behavior has created an unusual family dynamic where Lochan (age 17) and Maya (age 16) have unwittingly assumed the roles of mother and father in the household. They attend school during the day but at night when they come home they are responsible for their three younger siblings like any other parent would be for young children, they cook and clean, help with homework, bath and put them to bed at night. And as with any other traditional family there’s always the tough parenting necessary to deal with the problem child, in this case, 13-year old Kit.
Kit is a fine example of a rebellious, troubled youth who spits in the face of authority. He is your classic kid gone bad. You love to hate him and you cringe when he opens his mouth. His scenes in the book are heartbreaking you wonder what you feel more, pity or hate. The two younger siblings, Willa (age 5) and Tiffin (age 7) add the vulnerability you, as the reader, feel for the family. Too young to know any better, you eventually try to keep your own emotions in check when they clamour around their mostly drunken and absent mother when she surfaces for a few days.
The story delves deeper into the lives of Lochan and Maya by having them each tell their individual stories of their struggle to resist the feelings that grow between them. The heartbreak you feel for Lochan when he reveals his social anxiety disorder that prevents his brilliant mind from expressing it is truly well written. Lochan’s POV’s were definitely more powerful than Maya’s but in Maya you see hope. In Maya, you can actually glimpse a future for them that is beyond hiding and making ends meet. In Lochan you get a treaded sense of reality but in Maya you see the light in the darkness of their devastation.
Suzuma challenges herself to write a story that captivates our minds and tugs at our heartstrings all in the same breath. I believe she succeeds in this endeavor. Forbidden is not a scandalous read, you won’t be embarrassed by telling your friends about it (even if they get squicked at first) because at its heart is a truly devastating love story, one so tragic that even though you hope for a happy ending you know deep down inside it’s just going to break your heart.
Personally, I am not one to enjoy incest stories of any kind. There aren’t many out there and I’ll say that the only one I can think of is, of course, V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic series. But I read that in High School and I can honestly say that I was more in it for the shock value and the scandalousness than anything else (if I can remember it accurately, it wasn’t exactly great literature). Forbidden is most certainly NOT Flowers in the Attic, not by a long shot. Although I do believe the psychological and emotional abuse the characters faced are similar (neglect, mostly) the way they came out of it were different. Maya and Lochan prioritized their lives the way any parent would, they put their kids first. As a parent, I had to respect that. Overall, Forbidden was actually not what I expected in that I did not expect to really love this story. The best breakthrough I had was that I completely understood where the author was coming from and had I been raised in the same way these kids were I doubt I wouldn’t have done the same. That shouldn’t shock anyone who has read this brilliant book.
Tabitha Suzuma is the author of several acclaimed young adult books delving into the subject of mental illness, depression and loneliness. Her personal story on the subject is revealing and powerful and can be found on her web site: www.tabithasuzuma.com. She has never read Flowers in the Attic.