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REVIEW: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS – BIG, HUGE SPOILERS – FOR THE ENTIRE BOOK. PLEASE DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU PLAN TO READ THE BOOK AND DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED ON THE PLOT.

Dear Ms. Suzuma,

This has been a really difficult review to write.

When Jane sent an email indicating that this book was available for review to the reviewer group, and Janine chimed in to say that Forbidden was apparently about an incestuous brother/sister relationship, I was instantly intrigued. I was curious about how a YA book would tackle such a taboo subject. What I found was a book that troubled me, because (in part due to the first person narrative) the gulf between the way the characters’ motivations and actions are presented, and how I as the reader viewed them, was simply huge.

Forbidden by Tabitha SuzumaMaya and Lochan are brother and sister, living in London with their mother (nominally, at first) and their three younger siblings. Their mother is an irresponsible alcoholic who is usually either working or with her boyfriend (as the story goes on, the mother becomes even less of a presence in the family home). Lochan is the oldest, at 17; Maya is just 13 months younger. They have been taking care of their younger siblings for a while now; at least since their father left their mother. (The father eventually remarried and moved to Australia, and the children now have no contact with him.) Both Maya and Lochan are good surrogate parents and work well together, but obviously the responsibility is a burden to them, especially as the next oldest child, Kit, is entering his teenage years and beginning to act out.

How exactly the family got to this point was not well explained. The youngest child, Willa, is only five years old, so presumably the family was intact not that long ago. But there’s never a sense given of what Maya and Lochan’s early years were like, whether they have any good memories of their parents when the whole family was together. What little memories are shown indicate that the parents had an acrimonious relationship, but it’s not clear if that’s just during the breakup or for the entirety of their childhoods. This mattered to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to have an idea of how dysfunctional their entire lives had been; I mean, things had obviously been dysfunctional for at least the past several years since the father had left (and the fact that the father abandoned the family without compunction pretty much indicates that he wasn’t probably the best father to start with).

The other reason I wanted to understand the childrens’ earlier lives better relates to the first issue: Maya and Lochan are pretty damn saintly (Lochan has some emotional issues; more on that later). They are smart, responsible and more patient than a lot of 30-year-old biological parents would be with their sometimes challenging younger siblings. They (rather understandably) have little use for their feckless mother, but on the whole they don’t evince too much anger towards her or towards their absent father.

In general I believe one’s personality is usually formed by a combination of nature and nurture. Sure, there are cases of people who were raised horribly but go on to be wonderful, productive and healthy people. But more often than not, the sort of blows that Maya and Lochan have been dealt in their young lives are damaging. Yet in the book there doesn’t seem to be a connection made between these damaging events and either Lochan’s problems or the eventual incestuous relationship. This lack of connection became a real problem for me as the book went on.

Since the story is told in first person, by both Maya and Lochan, maybe we’re meant to understand that their perspectives are skewed. But that wasn’t the sense I got at all. Their points of view are presented in a very straightforward manner. It led to a real disconnect for me from the characters and the story. The best way I can explain it is this: both Maya and Lochan have narrative voices that do not feel authentic for children in their late teens, even ones who are bright and self-aware. Further, the self-awareness was an issue for me, because the way they present their relationship and the choices they make show a huge lack of self-awareness. Each of them (Lochan particularly) make really, really bad decisions in the course of the book, yet these actions are presented as reasonable, even noble. Further, their justifications for their relationship lacked real awareness that their screwed-up family dynamics might play a part in them falling in love.

In their internal musings and discussions with each other on the nature of their relationship, both Lochan and Maya say that they’ve never “felt” like brother and sister, but rather like “best friends.” I’m not sure what that even means. You can be both sibling and best friend, first of all; my sister is my best friend. I would think their closeness would make them feel more like siblings, not less. The only circumstances I can imagine saying that a sibling didn’t feel like a sibling would be if I really felt no connection to him/her (and I know that’s the case in some families, for various reasons). It just made no sense to me for the opposite to be true.

Maybe what they meant was that they didn’t relate to each other as they did to their younger siblings. But this is where the lack of sense and self-awareness comes in: of course they wouldn’t. They’re a year apart from each other but about 4 years from their younger brother and even more from the other two. They’ve parented all three. Of course the relationships are not going to be the same. To use that as evidence that the incestuous relationship is somehow more legitimate was just cuckoo to me. They try to further justify the taboo relationship by discussing the various types of unhealthy, abusive relationships that society accepts while condemning incest.

This sort of rationalization would’ve worked for me if it was clear that it was supposed to be a rationalization of an unhealthy relationship that was influenced to a great degree by their unusual and dysfunctional upbringing. But again, there was nothing beyond the first person voice that indicated that Maya and Lochan were wrong in their feelings and actions.

Even the tag line on the cover of my copy of the book, “Sometimes love chooses you” suggests that Maya and Lochan are a brother and sister who just happen to fall in love. I just don’t find that notion credible. It’s made less credible by their circumstances, which seem almost tailored to foster unhealthy relationships. As a reader, I try not to focus on the author, but to accept the characters at face value. In certain circumstances, I find that hard to do. It’s believable that Maya and Lochan don’t see the role that their family dysfunction plays in their relationship. But I needed some sense from the author that the reader was supposed to understand differently, and I never got that.

This is not to say that I didn’t have sympathy for the couple. I felt compassion for them and did not feel disgusted or judgmental about the relationship. I actually would’ve been okay with an HEA for the two of them. But simply from a rational point of view, I couldn’t get behind the romanticizing and whitewashing of the relationship that seemed to go beyond the narrative voices to the authorial one.

I also found it not credible that the characters’ sexual attraction came about at such a late age. This goes back to my belief that the relationship had to be the result of inappropriate channeling of emotions. Lochan is 17, a bit late for a boy to experience some sort of sexual awakening, but there’s no sense of him as a sexual creature; in fact, his attraction to Maya seems to be very much the by-product of his non-platonic love for her (in other words, he doesn’t love her because he lusts after her; he lusts after her because he loves her). Which I guess fits in with the narrative, but again doesn’t fit in with my perception of how such a relationship could or would come about. It would be much more realistic to me (if distasteful to some readers) if Lochan and Maya turned to each other when they were each a few years younger – as they begin to feel and explore their sexuality, the unusual intensity of their bond would manifest itself in a sexual way. Instead, it just sort of appears one day – Lochan realizes that he’s jealous after another boy asks Maya out; Maya comes to realize that however nice the other boy is, she doesn’t want him because he isn’t Lochan.

Characterization is really a weak point in Forbidden. Maya has no real personality that I could discern – she’s mostly just a collection of virtues. The mother is a central casting Bad Mother. The only character who shows any real depth is the troubled middle brother Kit, who seesaws between being an awful juvenile delinquent and showing flashes of the needy child he still is.

And then there is Lochan. Lochan operates well within the family, being responsible, patient, caring and articulate. Outside of the family unit, aside from being a good student, Lochan is a mess. He suffers from severe social anxiety to the point that he’s friendless, incapable of talking to his peers, and terrified of speaking in class. He has panic attacks. He appears to have a stutter, which I thought was going to be a bigger plot point but never  materialized into one. His internal monologues are disturbing – he often thinks in terms of coming apart, of essentially losing his mind. The parts narrated by Lochan can be difficult to read because from his own perspective, he is almost always teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t know if I should be disturbed by his feelings or annoyed because at times it comes off like melodramatic teenage angst.

The book begins with this internal monologue from Lochan:

I gaze at the small, crisp, burned-out black husks scattered  across the chipped white paint of the windowsills. It is hard to believe that they were ever alive. I wonder what it would be like to be shut up in this airless glass box, slowly baked for two long months by the relentless sun, able to see the outdoors—the wind shaking the green trees right there in front of you—hurling yourself again and again at the invisible wall that seals you off from everything that is real and alive and necessary, until eventually you succumb: scorched, exhausted, overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. At what instincts keep it going until it is physically capable of no more, or does it eventually learn after one crash too many that there is no way out? At what point do you decide that enough is enough?

Lochan’s voice is like that through much of the book: depressed, tormented and exhausted. Yet his mental health issues are not ever clearly delineated or even addressed beyond the acknowledgment that his school forced him to see a counselor at one point.

What frustrated me most about Lochan’s character was that again, I wasn’t clear if he had always been like this, or if his problems manifested themselves later in his childhood after the trauma of his parents’ breakup and his mother’s descent into complete irresponsibility. It felt disconnected from his family problems and disconnected from his attraction to Maya (except to the degree that this attraction gave Lochan more of an opportunity to feel tortured and miserable).

The issues I had with Forbidden really came to a head in the last quarter of the book. Again, I will warn the  reader – huge, huge spoilers ahead.

Lochan and Maya are caught in the midst of consummating their relationship fully by their mother. The mother somehow assumes that Lochan is raping Maya and calls the police; while they are waiting for the cops to arrive Lochan hurriedly tries to convince Maya that she must claim that he was forcing her to have sex. His reasoning is that one of them needs to be around to take care of the children, or they will only have their irresponsible mother to care for them, which will mostly likely result in them quickly becoming wards of the state. If they admit the relationship is consensual, they’ll both be in legal trouble and likely neither will be allowed anywhere near the younger three siblings. Maya finally agrees, and Lochan is taken away. He’s interviewed by the police, an interview that is vividly painful and humiliating to read (I will give credit for making it feel real, at least; I cringed to read it). Eventually, during a second interview, the police tell Lochan that Maya has broken and signed a document admitting that the relationship was consensual. This sinks Lochan even further into despair, especially after the police investigators (who seem to think Maya’s statement is made out of fear of Lochan, in spite of the fact that everything Lochan says and does clearly telegraphs his concern for Maya and his desire to take complete responsibility for the relationship) tell him that Maya could be put behind bars for two years for consensual incest with a male relative. Back in his cell, Lochan decides that the best solution is for him to commit suicide. If he kills himself, Maya won’t have any reason to continue to tell the truth.

For five heart-wrenching pages, Lochan works out a way to hang himself from some bars in the corner of his cell. Then he does so.

I can’t convey how upsetting I found this. Again, I’ll give the author credit for moving me, but it was simply horrific. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read a first person suicide scene…I seriously have no desire to do so again. The fact that the suicide was completely wrongheaded and a horrible, horrible solution to the problem that Maya and Lochan had created made it 1,000 times worse. Lochan somehow couldn’t bear the thought of Maya spending two years in prison? (Not that that was even likely to happen.) How about depriving her of her brother and the person she loved most in the world? How about leaving her with the guilt of realizing (if she does realize) that it was her inability to keep up the lie that lead to this fatal step? What about what Lochan is doing to Kit (who will have his own incredible burden of guilt to bear; it’s Kit who in a fit of pique sets up the mother to catch Maya and Lochan), Tiffin and Willa?

Look, I understand that suicide is (almost) always an irrational act. But once again, and in this case most disturbingly, it’s not presented that way at all. Ultimately, Lochan’s suicide is presented as a romantic act, a sacrifice to save Maya and his other  siblings. It’s an interpretation that I think is asinine, offensive and actually, dangerous. I could see teenage girls loving this book. I’m not saying it’ll make them have sex with their brothers or kill themselves, but I will say that I would not want my child to read it, even if she were an older teenager. Not because of the incest, but because of the romanticizing of suicide and the lack of acknowledgment of how twisted Lochan’s and Maya’s (especially Lochan’s) world views are.

The ending is bizarrely and inappropriately hopeful. The epilogue opens on Maya on the day of Lochan’s memorial service, and it quickly becomes clear that after the service Maya plans to kill herself, leaving notes for her younger siblings explaining that she just can’t go on anymore. I was torn between feeling the same about her killing herself as I did about Lochan – that it was a selfish and irrational act, and that she should think about what it would do to the children, the children she and Lochan had supposedly tried so hard to keep out of foster care – and thinking that she actually probably should just kill herself, because, boy, her life was pretty much entirely ruined. Maya ultimately decides that she’ll try to go on – for Lochan – and they head off to the church.

The book ends thusly:

We walk down the middle of the road holding hands, the sidewalk far too narrow for all four of us together. A warm breeze brushes across our faces, carrying the smell of honey­suckle from a front garden. The midday sun beams down from a bright blue sky, the light shimmering between the leaves, scattering us with golden confetti.

“Hey!” Tiffin exclaims, his voice ringing with surprise. “It’s nearly summer!”

What the fucking hell?

I mean, really? Really? You’re going to try to end this book on a note of hope, rebirth, etc. after everything that came before? A story about an unhappy, dysfunctional family whose oldest sibling appears to be at minimum deeply clinically depressed, about two siblings who develop an unhealthy incestuous bond without ever acknowledging the reasons the bond is formed, about a teenager who commits suicide for no good reason, leaving his younger siblings, including the one who was in love with him scarred for life and probably significantly more fucked up than they were already going to be by being raised in semi-poverty by two teenagers and abandoned by their birth parents?

Seriously? I just can’t even…the ending genuinely felt offensive to me. I really have no idea how to grade this book (I feel like I say that a lot, but it’s especially true in this case), but in the end, based on the multiplicity of the problems I had with it and the depth of those problems, I feel like I have no choice but to give Forbidden an F.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

43 Comments

  1. Mireya
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:09:09

    And this is marketed as “YA” … really?

    Thankfully, neither of my nieces is into this kind of thing (for lack of a better word) and I will not have to deal with telling them I am not getting them this “jewel”.

    I am sorry for sounding judgmental, but this sounds, well, HORRID.

  2. John
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:14:32

    I’ve heard about this one for a long time, and I’m still probably going to read it.

    As a wee little 8th grader a few years back, I got addicted to V.C.Andrews and her personal brand of WTFery. Gotta admit, I still love her (the original her, not the ghost-writer version) in a weird way. The incest relationship in the Flowers in the Attic series was actually really interesting.

    I know it’s a social taboo and unhealthy, but at the same time, I don’t hold judgement for people in that situation (where it’s consensual love.) It’s something that highly comes from environment, and that’s what I loved about your review. The breakdown of how the environment/situation just wasn’t gone into enough to feel like it was a realistic situation. Flowers worked for me on that level (even though the writing was bad) because their situation was beyond awful, their emotions were all over the place, they were parents to their siblings, and they were going through their sexual awakening at the time of the incest. V.C.Andrews at least got something right in showing how an environment coupled with a specific time in someone’s life can make them go towards a sibling like that.

    I look forward to seeing if I side with your or the people that loved Forbidden. It’s a book that will certainly see a lot of controversy among the reading/book community. That is for sure.

  3. KB/KT Grant
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:17:41

    I read Forbidden as well and wondered what if Suzuman had given Lochan and Maya their HEA?

    Also I think Suzuma was trying to make a case that because of Lochan and Maya’s environment,they turned to one another.

    I hated Lochan from the start. He acted much younger than he was and was over the top psychologically disturbed.

  4. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:30:54

    @Mireya: I really wanted to like it – I didn’t want to be judgmental about the incest. I mean, it’s not like I find incest romantic or sexy (yuck), but it’s not a hot button for me the way it is probably for many readers, perhaps because I don’t have brothers or even any close male cousins. So I don’t have that visceral “ick” about it, and I’ve read books where it’s dealt with in an interesting way – one of Alice Hoffman’s earlier books, White Horses comes to mind.

    I am also wary of ever coming off like a pearl-clutching “won’t someone think of the children!” type. But…I don’t know. If I had a 15-year-old daughter who was impressionable, would I want her to read it? Probably not. Not that I would necessarily tell her she couldn’t, or that I think it would do some lasting harm (I’m sure there were things at that age that I found romantic that would make me roll my eyes now). But the ending especially was just so disturbing to me that I just don’t know if it would be the best reading material for her. Hell, my mom probably should’ve discouraged my little 13-year-old emo self from reading The Bell Jar, and that at least has some literary merit.

  5. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:36:40

    @KB/KT Grant: Maybe it was just supposed to be so obvious that it didn’t need to be addressed. But certainly Lochan and Maya didn’t acknowledge the possibility.

    I didn’t hate Lochan but I found his depression…well, depressing and even exhausting to read.I should say that it probably was a decent first person depiction of someone in a deep depression. I really did have a problem with the fact that he seemed to have heavy psychological issues that were more or less ignored by everyone around him (except the teacher who tried to help him a bit). Even Maya, who was supposed to be the closest person in the world to Lochan, didn’t seem to spend much time thinking about how very mentally unhealthy he was. She kind of tries to set him up with her friend at one point, and the suggestion, to me at least, was that she only recognized that he was a bit shy and socially awkward. There was such dissonance between that perception of him and his tortured internal monologues.

  6. Phoebe
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:39:25

    I really, really disliked this one as well (review here), despite appreciating the writing and stylistics. Lochan had all the hallmarks of an emotional abuser, and yet you get the sense from the characters’ internal narration (particularly Maya’s) that we’re meant to celebrate their love. I had no particular problem with the incest generally, but I found the characters fairly loathsome in this particular situation.

  7. Mireya
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:47:05

    @Jennie: I don’t think you came across as judgmental. Personally speaking, what I got from your review was the impression that such serious topics (and particularly the suicide) were not treated with the care and depth they should have, and that is what pretty much made me comment.

  8. cs
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 13:49:19

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of the themes the author chose to use here. Incest, suicide, dysfunctional family, depression, alcoholism and so forth are all very real problems. I’m a reality reader so I appreciate that the author chose such dark themes. My problem with what you said was everything seemed to be romanticised and that’s just wrong. Then again Romeo & Juliet’s suicide pact at the end is always romanticised and that’s revered play.

    I also don’t understand how this book is a YA? I mean is it because their teenagers?

    I read a book called The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates about two dysfunctional brothers, and well lets just say that book was both amazing and hard to read.

  9. Mo
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 14:31:40

    Having only read your review, I know only what you have told me about the book. I do have one point to make, however. You are right that suicide is an irrational act. But, to the person committing suicide, it can be viewed as entirely rational, even romantic, self-sacrificing. Since you say this book is written in first person, that means that Lochlan feels that what he is doing is noble. That it is irrational to you, the reader, is of little importance. What is important is that Lochlan feels this way.

    And committing suicide has certainly been presented as a noble act before in books – Sydney Carton’s suicide in A Tale of Two Cities, for example. While his was not with an active hand, he knew exactly what he was doing and chose his own death to protect the one he loved most.

  10. Barbara
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 15:39:30

    I felt differently about the book, perhaps because there were some issues in it that were triggers for me. I don’t think I needed to have as much subtext on the page, but I can certainly see why you felt the way you did – this book is definitely either a big hit or a big miss for people.

    I completely agree with your feelings about the ending. I said in my own review that it just devastated me – I was sick to my stomach and could barely sleep. I still can’t erase the thoughts that were running through Lochan’s mind as he slipped the noose over his head. It was a horrible scene.

    I do agree with Mo – suicide seems an irrational reaction to everyone but the person doing it.

    I hated the way it ended with Maya as well. As awful as it sounds, I’d have rather she carried through on her original plan. That schmaltzy skipping up the path thing made me want to scream. I wanted some sort of happy ending and if I couldn’t get one, I wanted something nuclear.

  11. cs
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 16:17:48

    I applaud that the author used such dark themes, dysfunctional family, incest, alcoholism, depression, suicide and so forth. I may read this book in the near future, because I like the way the author didn’t shy away from anything. I know people find some of the extreme elements disturbing, but we are dealing with extremes here. Suicide is going to be disturbing, and so is incest to some people.

    I agree with commentator “Mo” on the suicide element. Romeo & Juliet killed themselves too in the name of love. I’m confused as to why you were disturbed though, was it because reading such an act is distressing (obviously) or did the author write in an unbelievable way? I am intrigued.

    I do however find the whole romanticising element really annoying. I do believe a lot of the themes dealt here will bring up your own personal views on matters. I am surprised it is a YA book though. I’d like to give teenagers credit and not be too up in arms about the label.

    I read a story called The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates. Fantastic book has some similar themes to this book.It was very hard to read, made me cry and made me depressed for a couple of days – but one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  12. Fionn Jameson
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:01:49

    Wow, I was actually seriously contemplating getting this book on the weekend.

    Thanks for the great review. I was wondering how she’d deal with the incestuous relationship, but the ending would’ve made me want to scream in frustration. I hate books where noble sacrifice means you kill yourself. Death is not the answer!

    …unless you’re a serial rapist and murderer. But now I’m just digressing.

    Thanks for the save, Jennie.

  13. Mary Anne Graham
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:02:29

    I found this review interesting because I adore the idea of “Forbidden Love.” One of my books, “Brotherly Love” deals with a family of 3 biological brothers and a girl they’ve taken in and raised as a sister. Then one of the brothers and the sister fall in love. I enjoyed writing about a family trying to work out an emotionally incestuous relationship.

    Some of the readers of my book still feel “icky” about the relationship. And that’s when it’s clear that it’s not physical incest. There’s not even a legal adoption. But I did focus on the “emotional incest” and that was enough to upset lots of folks.

    My idea in writing the book was to explore the notion that love doesn’t always fit neatly into society’s labels. I don’t know how many of the readers get what I was trying to convey. I’m sure the author here was making a statement about something, but I’m not sure what it was.

    Maybe it’s hypcritical, but I find incest that isn’t an exciting kind of read. Incest that is, well that isn’t a book I’d try at all. And the suicide – WTF?

    Sorry, I need a little more hope and I always need a HEA!

  14. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:22:54

    @Mo: I think Lochan felt that what he was doing was the only solution to the problem (or at least the best solution), which was really, really irrational in about a dozen different ways.. I really can’t judge Suzuma’s intent, but it disturbed me that it was presented as romantic and noble (through Maya’s voice, and Maya is never shown to be mentally ill at all).

    I see your point about Sydney Carton, though I’d argue that that sacrifice, while extreme, was rational given the circumstances. And it made me cry a lot when I was a teenager.

  15. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:39:54

    @Barbara: I tend to favor my subtext on the subtle side usually – I don’t know if it was the combination of this being first person and the fact that it was geared towards teenagers that made me feel like it needed to somehow be made clearer that both of these kids were making really bad decisions right on down the line (up to and including not even closing the BEDROOM DOOR when they are going to have sex – I mean, they thought everyone was away, but still…).

    I hesistated to say it (even though I alluded to it in the review), I kind of wanted Maya to kill herself as well. I mean, I didn’t *want* her to, but the ending was just so OFF, and I think you put it well when you say that absent an HEA, a “nuclear” one would have been preferable.

    (For some reason, even saying this reminds me of one of my favorite lines from The Simpsons; Comic Book Guy warns Bart not to lean on one of his glass cases as “It contains a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide.” I don’t know why but that line always cracked me up so much.)

  16. lucy
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 19:42:39

    Wow, I never thought that I would see a review for this book in this website.

    I kinda like the angst of forbidden love and since incest in fiction doesn’t bother me, I decided to give this book a chance. I liked it at first, but I lost interest when I read ahead and found out the ending.

  17. Barbara
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 22:24:09

    @Jennie:

    I hope you don’t mind me jumping in on your response to Mo, Jennie. :)

    I think by the time Lochan killed himself, he was simply past any reason. It didn’t matter what reality was, any threat of any kind to Maya was going to be the end of him.

    I didn’t think she had any mental illness either, but she made herself a surrogate mother figure to Lochan a lot, however inadvertently. I think she convinced herself she was “in” love with him because he was obsessed with her and they ended up feeding off of each other – her actions during and after they had sex at least said that to me. It was all about him during the act, then all about saving him from taking the blame alone after it.

    Her noble, romantic voice didn’t surprise me because I think in large part, that’s how she saw herself – as Lochan’s savior who loved him like no one else did and who could have been the only one to give him happiness if everyone would have left them alone.

    I’m sorry! I could go on and on about this book. I think I probably have with other people too. I’m really enjoying reading about your thoughts. :)

    I totally agree with you that the fact that this is supposedly geared towards a YA audience (I’m still not sure it’s appropriate for YA) should have meant that some issues were handled better. I just went off (eek) on another author who totally missed the ship by making a couple of her characters suffer with conditions for an entire book for the plot’s sake, rather than show her YA audience they were utterly treatable.

  18. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 00:22:58

    @Barbara: Of course I don’t mind! I agree that there’s something about the book that really makes it compelling and makes me want to discuss it. That was one of the reasons I hesitated on the F grade – it really was a book that stayed with me for a long time, and which I felt conflicted about.

  19. Brussel Sprout
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 06:41:33

    I was very interested in this review because I heard of Suzuma, then before buying checked out her website and various links, and downloaded some sample chapters. I don’t feel at all comfortable reading her work, nor would I recommend them to the impressionable teens I teach.

    Suzuma herself comes from a deeply troubled place and family and I think it shows – obviously in her themes, but also less obviously in the texture and force of her writing. I found the style veering between banal and visceral in a way that echoes teen experience quite vividly, but in a worrying way. She’s very frank on her blog about her background, which I admire in a way, but also feel is dangerous when dealing with a YA readership with a tendency to romanticise. While the vast majority of teens I work with are sensible and down to earth, every year, I encounter one or two who are fragile, conflicted and vulnerable to whom this kind of writing is meat and drink. While I certainly don’t think the answer is banning, particularly because any controversy of that sort awakens an audience for a banned book far wider than it needs to be, I really hope this book sinks without trace. Unfortunately, I suspect the publishers are going for marketing through controversy, and it will work. That means our job is to engage, discuss and take seriously the questions that arise from this book and from Suzuma’s other novels, which I think are also from a dark place. On the other hand, I haven’t seen anyone else writing in such detail about mental health issues, and particularly depression, and perhaps that is a good thing.

    One thing I will say – I found what I did read of this book much less aggravating and exploitative than Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, which is primarily about teen suicide, not incest and is by no means descriptive in the way that Suzuma seems to be. However, both books seem to revel in the death-wish aspect of adolescence.

  20. Katie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 07:03:05

    There are things that we should be judgemental about and incest is once of them.

  21. knstrick
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 09:37:04

    Just reading your review was causing me some emotional distress, I can’t imagine getting through the whole book.

    I won’t be reading this book but I was thinking about the difference between Lochan’s self-sacrificing death versus a less self-driven death, such as a soldier doing a kamikaze rush for his troop or a man stepping in front of a bullet for his wife.

    Both can be defined as suicide, though the later sits better with me. Without reading the actual book I won’t know if Lochan was romanticizing his own death, such as imagining how much better it will be than his current life or what everyone will think.

  22. Mo
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 10:51:20

    @Jennie:

    Ah, so Maya romanticized it. I can understand that. At her age in the book, it is not unusual at all for the concept of the “grand gesture” to be overly romanticised and there is no grander gesture than the giving of one’s life so that others may benefit. In fact, that very concept is why for me (based on your review), the end makes sense.

    If Maya sees this as a grand gesture of love, then to also commit suicide would be to reject that gesture of love and Lochan himself. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is do as he wished and live a full life and care for their siblings.

    An aside, not related to the suicide, I agree with other commenters who suggest that Maya and Lochan are not actually in love. It seems to me that they have formed a very strong emotional bond and that emotional bond itself fools them into thinking they are in love with each other. In that context, their foray into physically expressing their love could be seen as a bid for normalcy. They are mother and father to their siblings, essentially husband and wife to each other in their roles. Mom & Dad, husband & wife, they sleep together.

    Just a thought, anyway.

  23. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 16:23:57

    @Brussel Sprout: I did not know about the author’s background. It puts the darkness of the book in context, I suppose.

    I have been vaguely interested in 13 Reasons Why but have never actually picked it up because it just sounded so sad. There is something about teenage suicide that always feels so tragic to me. I mean, almost any suicide is tragic, but I always wonder with teens how much of it was impulse-driven, just a crazy mixture of hormones and brains that aren’t completely formed yet. It’s not like a 45-year-old who has suffered from depression all his life and decides to end it is necessarily rational or making good choices, but at least you can say he has tried at life. A 15-year-old or a 17-year-old doesn’t even know what their life can really be.

  24. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 16:38:09

    @John: I thought about the VC Andrews books (specifically, the first series) a lot, even though they are obviously very different. I read her probably starting in fifth or sixth grade, though I gave her up after the first couple of series because the themes just got too repetitive and the wretchedness of the writing got to be too much to take. (My mom also read them and she used to make fun of the heroines’ constant references to their own “tiny fists” – as in, “I ground the tears from my eyes with my tiny fists.”)

    I did find the relationship between Cathy and Chris in the Flowers in the Attic series interesting, and very understandable (I mean, not realistic, but if you DID happen to be locked up in an attic with your sibling as an adolescent, their feelings for each other were understandable). I was thinking about how they eventually do present themselves to the world as a married couple when I said that I would’ve been okay with Maya and Lochan having that kind of HEA (if Lochan started getting some good meds, anyway).

    QUOTE: Flowers worked for me on that level (even though the writing was bad) because their situation was beyond awful, their emotions were all over the place, they were parents to their siblings, and they were going through their sexual awakening at the time of the incest. V.C.Andrews at least got something right in showing how an environment coupled with a specific time in someone’s life can make them go towards a sibling like that.

    Yes, exactly. And honestly, it was understandable to me in Forbidden as well. But in Flowers the characters had a clearer understanding of how messed up they were, and why. Whereas Maya and Lochan really seemed to believe that it was just some sort of crazy coincidence that they’d found their soulmate in the sibling with whom they had always been unusually close.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing your opinion on it, John.

  25. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 17:01:29

    @Phoebe: Great review! I think we are pretty much on the same page, though I was a bit more sympathetic to Lochan than you were, because I did believe he was mentally ill. Which is why it frustrated me so much that no one seemed to really acknowledge how obviously disturbed he was. I guess maybe there was no one who could really recognize it, given how isolated he was, except for Maya. His mother was too crappy and Kit was too young. I’m beginning to revise my opinion on Maya’s normalcy (specifically, her lack thereof).

    But this again is where I get frustrated by first person voice and not understanding authorial intent. I hate the word fanwank, but I think you kind of have to fanwank to figure some of the characters’ motivations, because we are talking about things that aren’t even apparent in the characters’ thoughts, never mind their actions. Am I supposed to assume that Maya was in denial about Lochan’s mental fragility? If I do assume that, it’s not based on anything in the text, but rather my own common sense (she’d HAVE to be in denial to barely acknowledge how messed up he was, right?).

  26. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 17:48:15

    @cs:I was thinking about Romeo and Juliet yesterday in relation to this book. I know a fair number of people (none literary critics, to be fair) who think R&J were immature morons. But I really give it a pass because 1) it’s Shakespeare and 2) I don’t expect realism from works that are hundreds of years old. Sensibilities were different, and writing styles were different.

    The suicide was depicted in a realistic way – it was just devastating to read because I, as the reader, was in Lochan’s tortured mind, and I knew he was going to do it (I was semi-spoiled; I knew the book had a tragic ending), but I just kept hoping that the rope would break or that he’d be maybe brain-damaged but not actually dead…it was just very disturbing.

    I’m not sure if the book will divide readers that much on the incest issue, because I’m assuming that most readers put off by the subject matter will choose not to read the book. I’m interested to see if there are readers who like the book but don’t buy into the romanticized version of events (from my skimming of Amazon reviews, it appears most of the fans there do see it as tragic love story).

  27. Kaetrin
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 03:26:42

    I’m intrigued by the idea of a suicide told from a first person perspective. When I read a first person book and a character is in danger, I always think, ‘well, they must make it because they’re telling the story’. I take it it is told in first person present tense? And, once he’s unconscious the rest is from Maya’s POV?

    I’m not terribly interested in reading the book – the subject matter doesn’t interest me at all and I have similar views to Jennie regarding suicide in general – but I am intrigued by the idea of an author writing a suicide scene from a first person POV. That seems somehow brave and weird to me.

  28. Janine
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 12:29:00

    @Kaetrin: Well over a decade ago I remember reading a book, In the Cut by Susannah Moore, which

    SPOILER
    SPOILER
    SPOILER

    ended with the narrator’s murder. On the one hand, I was bummed by the ending (one doesn’t expect a novel about a serial killer to end with the narrator’s murder) but on the other hand I felt it was an interesting trick to play on the reader and I liked the way the last few lines were written.

    In trying to identify the title of this book, I stumbled across a discussion thread on the topic of books that end with the first person narrator’s death. Apparently there are several of them. You can find the discussion here.

  29. Jennie
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 23:16:43

    @Katie: I don’t necessarily agree. I mean, if both parties are consenting, I don’t see it as my business. Also, there are circumstances (as with the characters in this book), where I feel like the people involved are more sympathetic than anything else. I do think that (in our society at least), it’s not really possible for an incestuous relationship to be a *healthy* relationship, but I don’t really make moral judgments unless one person is hurting another.

  30. Jennie
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 23:19:13

    @Kaetrin: I’m wondering if Looking for Mr. Goodbar qualifies as one of those books? I *think* I read it, and it ends with the main character being murdered, but I don’t remember if it was first person.

  31. Amy @ My Friend Amy
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 13:48:01

    Yeah I thought we were supposed to know that Lochan had issues since he couldn’t carry a conversation with anyone outside of his family basically.

    I don’t have the same issues with the book as you did, (though you’ve given me something to think about) but I did think the relationship was very emotionally dependent, which can kind of explain the late blooming physical attraction, it wasn’t an issue until it was forced as an issue when Maya contemplated dating someone else. I felt sympathy for them because you just knew their lives were going to be ripped apart. I didn’t think about the romanticizing of the suicide so much as I thought the author was trying to make a bigger point about how these kinds of things might happen.

    Interesting discussion, thanks!

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    Jul 07, 2011 @ 14:01:01

    [...] I finished reading a really depressing and disturbing book, I felt the need for a complete change in direction. Jane had sent me a copy of your debut novel a [...]

  33. Jo
    Jul 24, 2011 @ 01:06:21

    I have no problem with incest in a novel either. In fact, once you’ve read wincest in fanfiction (incest between the Winchester brothers in the TV show, Supernatural), nothing suprises you after that.

    What’s interesting is that the fanfiction will always explore WHY they get together. They range from shoddy justifications like this novel you reviewed, to really insightful explorations of family dynamics, society taboo and isolation from that conventional society.

    So for me accept it in a published novel, by damn, the author had better get it right. It sounds like this one didn’t do it be a long shot.

  34. emi
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 03:27:33

    I haven’t read this book, but I have heard all about the process of writing it and the great reviews from many other people, mainly ’cause I absolutely ADORE Tabitha Suzuma.

    Tabitha Suzuma is one of my favourite writers, I think she does an amazing job with writing interesting character studies, and the way she expresses a character’s thoughts and emotions. Maybe you should give “A Note of Madness” a go?

    I love Tabitha Suzuma, but I just couldn’t pick up this book because the incest topic is too much for me.

    Anyway, I liked your in-depth review.I really like how you’ve considered the backgrounds and history of all the characters, it’s always nice to see someone who actually thinks and tries to care so deeply about them. :)

  35. IWheeler
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 04:04:05

    Damnit, FINALLY!! Someone who sees it the entire way I saw it. Especially with the ending. That had no purpose whatsoever, and the book’s issues were still…UNRESOLVED!
    No wonder it’s for YA. Adults would definitely question the entirety of the story AND the pointless ending. It never made sense and it doesn’t fit with the story. You can’t write a story like this without some type of resolve. Not only did the author fail at doing so, but she failed at fixing any problems with this dysfunctional family. To let the mother get off so easy…well…that just insulted my damn intelligence.

    I commend you for your brave and accurate review. You just made my anger with this book dissipate. I’ll never read anything by her again.

  36. Jennie
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 16:32:31

    @IWheeler: I might try her again, myself. I’m not sure why – maybe to see if I have the same sort of issues with the story? It would depend on the plot.

  37. Sofia
    Jul 17, 2012 @ 19:48:44

    I just recently read Forbidden, I am also 14…
    I thought the idea was interesting at first but it got boring quickly.
    I didn’t like how they were stupid enough to be risking the children, even for love. I also didn’t really get what they looked like.
    YA need a happy ending but not skipping down some stupid pathway after the leading male kills himself unnecessarily. I have to say that I’m scarred for life and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless you like stupid endings.
    I had no problem with the brother&sister romance and I did feel sympathy but Lochan did not have to kill himself. I didn’t actually realize he was going to hang himself until Maya’s narrative and they mentioned a memorial. I thought he was going to climb out and I had to re read those few pages.

    I got bored half way through but finished it anyway because I wanted it to end.
    This is the worst book I have ever read. It shouldn’t be in the YA category.

  38. Anna
    May 03, 2013 @ 21:44:40

    I did forget to say that I was reading the end of this book while sitting in a nail salon getting a pedicure, and I slammed my kindle cover shut and said loudly, “What kind of freaking ending is that!” Like I said before….. emotional roller coaster…..and my last emotion was anger!!!!! But, I still liked the book

  39. Jackson Taylor
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 09:42:45

    You’ve completely missed the point of the story, and also, Lochan realises his attraction to Maya Before then, which is the problem.

  40. James Bourne
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 09:44:36

    I personally loved this book, I know at least 7 others who thoroughly enjoyed it too, any book that can make me cry for the last 50 or so pages is a great one.

  41. D
    Dec 23, 2013 @ 02:25:23

    I read this about when it came out and I was still in school. I found it very interesting because of the topics that were addressed. As far as suicide goes, I don’t agree with it but I don’t condone it either. Lochan thought he would be protecting his family by taking his own life because if his sister went to jail, the siblings would get separated. So it was a way of keeping what was left with his family together.
    It also kept my attention seeing as I read the whole book in about a day. It just depends what your interests is.

  42. shitthisbookbrokemyheart
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 15:47:49

    i just finished this book and shit im fucking angry the ending was cliffhanging and WHY THE FUCK DID LOCHAN HAVE TO DIE

  43. mary
    Jan 28, 2014 @ 14:42:19

    this book is awful, i just want to erase it from my mind, the mind of the author is so dirty

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