"Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending."
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
One sentence sum-up: a story of the most illicit romance of all — that of brother and sister.
My reaction: Forbidden is the kind of book that reaches out and punches you in the gut. And I mean that in a good way.
I don't even really know how to describe my reaction to this book. I found it a little slow at the very beginning, but I started to get really wrapped into the characters and their lives, and pretty soon when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it and feeling the need to read some more. For me, it was kind of like watching one gigantic train wreck and not being able to tear my eyes away. That's not a reflection on the writing — which is very well crafted — but rather on the fact that I knew this was not going to end well. I hadn't been spoiled as to the specifics of the ending, but I knew it wasn't going to be happy.
It doesn't even start with the characters in a good place. Their mother is obviously running for 'Worst Mom of the Year' and their father is nowhere to be seen. Maya and Lochan are taking care of the whole family themselves and burning themselves out doing it. The younger siblings don't understand and the middle child has entered the rebellious teen phase. And it only gets worse from there, when the nature of Maya and Lochan's relationship turns romantic and you just know that spells trouble ahead. There was this dread in the pit of my stomach, this feeling that it was only a matter of time until they got caught and someone found out... And yet, irrationally, I kept hoping, and I kept reading.
Best aspect: The way Suzuma makes you care about her characters. Forbidden isn't driven by plot, it's driven by character and situation. And yet, somehow, even though there isn't a lot of action or many memorable plot points through most of it, I was absorbed by it. I particularly loved Lochan as a character. He's such an unusual guy — shy, tentative, introspective, and closed off from the outside world due to an extreme case of social anxiety. Yet he allows himself to open up around Maya, and she gets to see the real Lochan. More generally, I just enjoyed all of them as a family, desperately trying to stick together and survive.
Plus, this book made me cry. I was tearing up at one point while reading, and then afterwards when I was trying to record my thoughts I honestly just started bawling. I don't cry often over books, so that immediately puts it up a few notches in my estimation.
The incest angle: the incestuous nature of Maya and Lochan's relationship is not ignored or pushed aside by any means. They struggle with it, just as the reader will, as their heads war against their hearts and bodies. In some scenes it's easy to forget they're related, but in others it's brought up as an altogether too painful and wrenching reminder. It might squick you out a few times when you actually think about it (I don't have a brother, but I can imagine that would have made it even more uncomfortable for me as a reader) but it's impossible not to root for them all the same. They depend on each other so much, and are so fiercely loyal and protective of one another, that it just seems right for them to be together — even though, as Lochan points out, "How can something so wrong feel so right?" I really appreciated that Suzuma showed us how they could have gotten to this point; how, over time, after years of acting as a stand-in "mom" and "dad" to their younger siblings, and trusting no one outside of their family, they would turn to each other for romantic love as well. To them, it's natural to want each other, and their deepening relationship is both a blessing and a curse. It's the one bright spot in their lives and in this book — and yet it's what will surely be their downfall.
If I could change something... Before I read Forbidden I saw reviews criticize it for not having the most authentic teen boy's perspective, and for being rather melodramatic. And while I do see their points, neither of those criticisms weigh that much with me compared to everything else Forbidden has going for it. Yes, there is a lot of angst going on here (and I did think Maya reacts over-the-top in one part in particular), but if any couple deserves to exhibit some angst, it's these two. And fine, you're probably never going to meet a teenage guy as sensitive and thoughtful as Lochan, but I think the tough life he's had so far is at least partly an explanation for his unusual maturity.
I actually don't have much I would change in this one. There are a few points at which the drama is overstated and could be toned down to feel more real, and some of it feels a bit repetitive. Also, this is a tiny quibble, but I didn't like the pet name "my love" Lochan and Maya used for each other — it seemed out of place with the rest of the dialogue, too old-fashioned to be authentic for teens. But overall, I wouldn't tinker with it much at all (which is quite rare for me!)
In five words or less: painful, depressing, thought-provoking and amazing.
I know that whatever the reasons for our feelings, however much I try to justify them, it doesn't change anything: Lochan cannot be my boyfriend. Out of the millions and millions of people that inhabit this planet, he is one of the tiny few I can never have. And this is something I must accept—even if, like acid on metal, it is slowly corroding me inside.
Read if: you're looking for a unique book that will make you hurt for the characters and what they're up against. But prepare to feel sucker-punched by the end.
Final verdict: 5 shooting stars. Suzuma gets major points just for having the guts to write a story about a topic most YA authors wouldn't dare touch. But the fact that it's a story with such a powerful emotional impact makes it worthy of 5 stars — and your reading time.
Note: I would only recommend this for older YA readers, as there is mature content (including explicit sexual content), themes, and language.