Book Review: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
She is pretty and talented — sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But …They are brother and sister.
A lot of people have given this book glowing reviews – the general consensus being that the romance between brother and sister Lochan and Maya, far from being off-putting, was not only a passionate love story, but heartbreaking as well.
Ironically, the incest in Forbidden was the least of my problems with this book — though it will be a deal breaker for many readers. I like fiction that explores difficult and taboo subjects, that makes me question why I feel a certain way about a serious, sensitive issue. If nothing else, Forbidden is a pretty daring YA novel. But I couldn’t help but feel slightly… manipulated as I read this.
For me, Forbidden wasn’t a love story at all. If Suzuma was attempting to make me, as a reader, fall in love with these characters and find myself hoping they would find a way to be together, then she failed – and not, as you might assume, because Lochan and Maya were brother and sister.
Far from being romantic, this is one big mess of an abusive relationship, in more ways than one. I was very aware while reading that this isn’t a story about two consenting adults. This is a story about two teenagers. And when the inevitable does happen, and Lochan and Maya sleep together, it’s a story about one (admittedly, young) adult having sex with his underage sister.
Both lack any sort of healthy relationship role model in their lives. They rely on one another to survive, never letting anyone else get too close for fear social services will separate their family. Lochan, in particular, is completely isolated from any other type of relationship, experiencing severe panic attacks if he has to talk to anyone outside his family. He is, frankly, mentally unstable and as the story progresses, it is clear he is loosing his grip on reality. An example of this is in the subtle shift when referring to his kid brother and sister as ‘the children’, to ‘my children’, by the end of the book.
Maya stuck me as incredibly young, despite practically being a mother to her younger brothers and sisters for years. She displays a typical teenager view on love: that what her and Lochan share is true love. They are soul mates. It is epic. They will be together forever, and it’s unfair that society won’t allow them to be happy. That she pushes Lochan to give in to his desires, and her belief that once they are both 18 they will be free to do whatever they want without repercussions, (and that until then it’s perfectly fine for them to touch as long as they don’t have full sex) only highlights her severe naivety and lack of maturity, making it seem all the more wrong when they do finally sleep with one another. For me, this is actually a story about two neglected teenagers who turn to the only person they trust, seeking any sort of comfort out of fear and loneliness.
I also disliked how moody and violent Lochan was. One moment he would be fine, the next, in a rage. He attacks his younger siblings more than once and in a moment of carelessness, dislocates his baby sister’s arm. In one particularly disturbing scene, Maya returns home from having dinner with a boy from school and Lochan has gotten so worked up, he confronts her the moment she steps in the house, screaming abuse in her face and punching a wall. Lochan is violent, jealous and possessive. Perhaps understandable, given his life so far, but it makes him a very dangerous romantic interest.
The fact that Maya doesn’t see any of this, and is constantly running to comfort Lochan, or make excuses for his behaviour (to the extend she doesn’t even bother to check on her younger brother after being grabbed round the neck), only highlights just how young Maya is, and how dark their relationship really was. There are some quite graphic sex scenes in Forbidden, and I was uneasy about how much they focused on Lochan’s gratification and how romanticized they were. Maya is happy to give Lochan this gift, this inner peace and comfort. Never is it more clear that this isn’t an equal relationship.
The most interesting character for me was Kit and I personally found his complicated relationship with Lochan far more compelling. I’ve read some reviews where readers have found him obnoxious and spoilt, but I think it’s easy to forget he is only thirteen and if my heart broke for anyone in this story, it was him.
Overall, I found Forbidden far too melodramatic and angsty, despite it’s potential to explore a particularly dark, obsessive relationship. So much more could have been done with the story. A deeper look at all the characters, instead of just focusing on Lochan and Maya would have been good. I’ll admit that these kids drove me nuts with their erratic behaviour – one minute they were are desperately in love, the next they hate one another, are filled with disgust at their own feelings, and then are back to being in love, all within a page or two. Rinse and repeat.
The shift in their relationship was sudden — a lot more was needed to convince me of their romantic interest in one another. Ultimately, I just couldn’t connect with anyone, except, perhaps, Kit. Lochan was violent and manipulative and Maya lacked personality. The mother was, sadly, one-dimensional and her character never properly explored.
My biggest gripe would be with the ending. It felt out-of-place and made no sense for the characters to act the way that they do. If I’m honest it felt rushed, ill-thought out, but mostly contrived, for a tearful conclusion. An uncomfortable book.