Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Synopsis from Amazon:

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.

Review:
Short synopsis, but what more needs to be said? The term ‘food for thought’ comes to mind and is immediately redefined by this novel. Emotionally driven, unrelenting, shocking but not gratuitous – this story is the epitome of open-minded topical address. I’m not a prudish reader – in fact the more trying a novel is, the more inclined I am to have a go at it. That said, I don’t think anyone with a sibling (or many without) could possibly read this without the occasional bout of discomfort. Particularly during those (surprisingly frequent) occasions where you just KNOW what’s coming next, you might find yourself having to put the book down for a moment, take a breath, and brace yourself.

First and foremost, however, Suzuma creates an incredibly authentic, insular sense of family through the emotional, social and financial tensions and strains this unit of characters suffer as they struggle through daily life – 5 siblings dealing with issues like innocence, rebelliousness and social anxiety. With very few peripheral characters, it’s easy to get lost in this small domestic world as you become familiar with the complex workings of their every-day life. Nothing is ‘normal’ here, an alcoholic mother, an absentee father, constantly ducking social services – the family is a self-contained safe-haven, a prejudice-free zone where Maya and Lochan take on parental roles, and later where their love is free to flourish. The novel moves from dealing with common familial and social issues which will resonate with many readers, to dealing with something which, at first glance, inspires revulsion, but which almost seems like a natural progression for the two eldest characters.

And that’s the ethical debate every reader will have with themselves – it’s impossible not to wish Maya and Lochan could be together somehow, not to feel the natural progression of their love – and then suddenly remembering what it is you’re wishing for, how unnatural most of us feel it should be. That is the biggest achievement of the author in this novel – so successfully creating that moral opposition, rooting it within the reader and pushing it as far as possible critically and emotionally. The entire novel is beautifully written, and the core theme of incest is approached carefully, without bias (in a dual narrative) and with great credibility (Maya and Lochan are as torn as any reader will be) – but also without compromise.

Despite the unsettling subject matter, Forbidden is an amazingly compelling and often fast paced read – I completed it in less than 48 hours, despite pausing regularly to digest the difficult content. You will, without doubt, get caught up in this disturbing, fantastical, fantasy world where love runs deeper than blood; but at the end of the day fantasies are mere whims and there’s a severe price to pay for taking on the world and going against society. Harsh, beautiful, inspiring and utterly heart-breaking, this is a novel which will challenge your morals, really get you thinking, and stay with you for a long, long time.

10/10

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