Saturday, 16 February 2013

Teenage Book - Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

Teenage Book - Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma 

Recommended For: Older Teenagers/Adults

Genre: Romance/Troubled Teens

Sometimes when choosing which book to read next, a blurb sticks out at you that you just can't ignore. It can be a new twist on a classic fantasy tale, or the premise of a crime that you can't see an easy solution for, or sometimes it's just because you know it's a controversial or taboo subject and you want to see how the author tackles it. Put Forbidden in the latter category. It's premise? A young couple fall in love.

And they happen to be brother and sister.

Now I enjoy something that pushes boundaries or tackles taboo subjects - if we didn't push boundaries, or look at these taboo questions, we'd never see a change in what we read or see on television, or our attitudes in society. When I saw the premise of Forbidden, I wasn't expecting the book to try and tell me that a brother and sister falling in love was OK, but I was intrigued as to how it could happen, and how the characters within reacted to it and justified it (or didn't). Upon finishing it, however, I think that this isn't primarily a story about a brother and sister falling in love - mainly, it's a story about a family neglected by their mother, and in this way it's absolutely heartbreaking. It's rare that I'll come away from a book feeling genuinely affected, but I spent the entirety of it feeling more and more sympathy for the plight of the five children in the story, and when it finished I really did feel down for about an hour, as I took in what had happened. I'll get to the main selling point of the book in a minute, but first let me give the usual plot outline.

Lochan, 17, and Maya, 16, are the eldest children of five. Lochan is almost cripplingly shy at school, and only comes out of his shell at home, where Maya is more outgoing, but still only really has one friend at school. Between them, they help to look after their younger brothers, Kit, 13, Tiffin, 9, and sister Willa, 5. Their father fled to Australia to start a new family shortly after Willa was born, and their mother works long shifts as Head Waitress at a cafe her new boyfriend owns. They look after the children far more than their mother, and have always been best friends as well as siblings. As their mother spends more and more time away at her boyfriends, they take more responsibility for looking after their younger siblings, and as this brings them ever closer it eventually leads them to fall in love. For the rest of the book, they have to learn to deal with these feelings, and the constant threat of what would happen if their relationship was discovered.

Now, the major elephant in the room, the incestuous relationship between Lochan and Maya, is what will intrigue and draw people to read this, but in all honesty I don't think this is the most important theme in the book. Really, it's why they end up falling in love that is what grabbed me. Here are two teenagers, nearly adults, who have to essentially play mother and father to their three younger siblings, because their real mother and father are absent (although she's around at the start of the book, the longer it goes on the more their mother spends at her boyfriend's house when she isn't working, only returning when she needs to give them money). The pressure that this puts them under, and the fact they only feel like they have each other to turn to is what pulls them together. Essentially, this is a book about neglect, and the effect it has on children of all ages. Some of the text is heartbreaking to read, especially when the mother spends all her money on clothes to 'treat' herself, forgetting that her children (five of them, remember) need to come first. She smokes in the house (another thing that riles me up), dresses twenty years too young and without any class, and talks about how she never wanted the children in the first place. Truly, scum of the highest order.

Switching between the viewpoints of Lochan and Maya, we get to see how they both react to their feelings developing, and it's interesting to see how they both react. Whilst I warmed to both characters, I do feel the need to criticise the amount of times Lochan seemed to be happy with the situation developing, then be unhappy, then be happy, then be unhappy...I've seen it happen before in plenty of television shows (stand up Smallville and the drawn out yawnfest of Clark & Lana...), and you want to end up screaming at the characters to make up their minds and stop being so annoying. However, there has to be a certain amount of indecisiveness in the subject matter of this book, so it's perhaps a bit more understandable here than elsewhere (still looking at you, Smallville...). What I do know is that I felt Lochan and Maya deserved happiness following the lives they've had to lead, and even if their feelings were ultimately ones that should have remained forbidden, the fact they came from parental neglect makes them understandable in the context. If I remember correctly, at one point one of them says that it's always felt more like they're playing the mother and father role of a family than a brother and sister role, and if that's the way they feel about each other then you can see how their feelings developed.

It would be wrong not to mention the other children, for they are all victims of the mother and father's neglect. Kit, the surly teenager who hangs round with gangs and stays out till all hours of the night, is the classic teenager rebelling because he doesn't have a loving home. Whilst he and Lochan fight (literally at least once) a lot, deep down he is really the middle child who isn't old enough to be a decision maker, but not young enough to wave all his responsibilities. In many ways, he's the most tragic of all. Tiffin shows signs of heading the same way, the absence of his mother starting to show its strain towards the end of the book. Willa, although a happy young girl on the face of things, has always seen Maya as more of a mother figure than her actual mother, and when Maya and Lochan begin spending more time together and forget to play with her, this too causes the cracks to show, and the absence of a mother to share this responsibility is all too clear. Honestly, when you sit and analyse all the pain that this family are going through because of absent parents, it's enough to make you weep.

Now, I didn't weep. Not quite. I'll weep at most things, happy or sad, especially the ending to Return of the Jedi, so in some ways it's surprising that I didn't here. The ending itself is tragic, although not completely unexpected with the path the book takes (or maybe it should be more of a shock, and I've just seen too many films of teenage angst), and although there weren't any tears, I genuinely felt numb. For at least an hour, I could feel a sagging weight about my person, as if I'd been dealt a heavy blow, and I think it's testament to Tabitha Suzuma's writing that she could elicit this response. It takes an awful lot of skill to leave a lasting effect on someone, rather than just a few tears. I cared about these characters, and the fates that befell them. Whether their love was right or wrong, you can't help but want happiness for Lochan and Maya, even if it is between siblings. So too do you badly want something positive to come along for their other siblings, especially five-year old Willa. I didn't go into this book expecting my views on a controversial subject to be challenged, and I don't feel like they have - the book isn't trying to tell you it's right or wrong, whatever circumstances it occurs under - it's trying to tell you a tale about what can happen under child neglect, and the impact that can have on the children involved. In that way, it succeeds utterly.

A very powerful, moving piece, that will stay with you for a while afterwards.


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