Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzumua

Forbidden 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.

(Summary from GoodReads)

As soon as I heard Forbidden would be coming out in the U.S., I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.  How many YA books deal with incest?  Eventually I just couldn’t ignore it calling to me from my TBR pile.  Forbidden is a compulsively readable book, but tries to tackle too much without enough editing.

Forbidden is told me from the perspectives of Lochan and Maya, the two siblings who are not only in love, but essentially raising three younger siblings because their mother is horribly irresponsible.  This book has family drama, psychological issues, forbidden love, and legal issues all tied into one story. At first I thought that some of these things were necessary for the premise, like the psychological issues, but I think the overall tone to this book was too dark and dramatic. The psychological issues gave sort of a backstory to why Lochan and Maya would want to be together, but Suzuma didn’t focus enough on their love in the present. For example, we’d hear about how Lochan has had a hard time with others since he was young, but not as much about why he wanted to be with Maya right now.  Unfortunately, it felt like Maya and Lochan just went in circles around each other for 200 pages.

As for the legal drama, there were some great moments towards Lochan and Maya where I liked reading about what they were thinking about the legal system and the consequences of their actions.  However, it got melodramatic at times. It seemed as though Suzuma wanted to throw in a lot of twists and cliffhanger chapter endings. I certainly don't mind some of these elements, but after a while it felt they felt too heavy-handed, as though Suzuma was shouting, "You know, you're reading about teenagers doing something that is illegal and that most of society find disgusting!" right into my ear. Tough subjects need to be addressed in YA literature, and I'm not questioning that at all. However, don't spend all 450 pages of your novel (which should be 50-100 pages shorter, I think) telling me this. Some of the dialogue felt like something that a.) a teenager wouldn't say or b.) like something a teenager would say if he or she was an actor on a soap opera. I understand that these characters had unusual responsibilities given their ages and that they’re supposed to have dramatic feelings for each other, but the juxtaposition of the two made it feel like the characters were under-developed not carefully thought through.

I mentioned the twists before, and they were most intense in the last 100 pages. It felt like a new one was added every five to ten pages. I realize that Suzuma probably wrote this book for the sake of selling a story, and not with an agenda in mind. I say this because think if a YA novel tackling incest had a really strong agenda, it wouldn't be marketable. Young adulthood is a time of intense change, and teens (nor adults) don't see the world in black and white. Unfortunately, because of the nature and quantity of Suzuma's twists, it felt as though there was some kind of agenda, but so much had happened that no reader could pick it out of the story. I think it’s kind of like My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult—it seems like the author was trying to make a very specific point with this ending, but you have to step away from the shock of it to get it.  In this case, I still can’t figure out what Suzuma was getting at.  It all became so convoluted that I find myself asking why this particular story needed to be told. Am I supposed to think, "Wow, what an emotional story,” or “Wow, we need to look at people who commit incest in a more sensitive light”?  It didn’t help that the last line of this book felt completely off base to me. It was perhaps meant to convey a particular tone, but came across as more "Where did that even come from?"

While I applaud Suzuma for at least trying to tackle the subject of incest, I don’t think she succeeded. In just about every respect—plot, major themes, characters—I thought this one had far too much going on and needed stronger editing.  There are readers who agree with me, but some reviews have been very different, so check out what these folks have to say as well.
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