Reynje's Reviews > Forbidden

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
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So, About Taboo Subjects in YA Literature
Or: Do Teenagers Really Use the Word “Ensconced”?

Somewhere deep in the world of technical things I don’t really understand, there is an algorithm that persisted in listing Forbidden in almost every shelf of personalised recommendations. Based on my previous reading and shelving habits, it insisted that I should read this book. But I dug my heels in: “Stop trying to make Forbidden happen, Goodreads. It’s Not. Going. To. Happen.” (Because I have a pretty good idea of my own tastes, and sometimes I talk to inanimate objects like that). I guess I could have just clicked that helpful “Not Interested” button. But perversely, I wanted to see how long Goodreads would continue to push Forbidden on me as I carried on updating my shelves.

And the inevitable happened. I decided to read it. There was always the possibility my gut had misinformed me, right? It’s happened before.

And thus, after much thought, I have Things To Say about this book. The Things are not going to be overly positive. Hence, if you loved this book – and I know and respect many who do (hi, friends!) – you may not wish to proceed with reading this review. I will make it clear upfront: I did not like this book. And while I apologise in advance to anyone who finds my comments in any way offensive, I do not make apologies for disliking it.

Part of my employment history directly relates to child protection. The sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children was on my radar on a daily basis. No doubt that colours my response to this book to some extent. I freely admit that this affected the way I approached it, read it and am able to process it. I spent a lot of time arguing with myself upon completion: was I simply having a knee-jerk reaction to the subject matter? Why was I responding this way to this particular issue? Was I a hypocrite because I had a different response to other books which contained, arguably, equally controversial subject matter?

My answer, which may not satisfy all, is that it’s not the subject matter I object to. I am not unfamiliar with incest in works of fiction. Rather, I take issue with the manner in which it was handled in the case of Forbidden.

I would like to believe that this book is a stroke of literary genius in which the author masterfully makes use of unreliable, self-deceived narrators to thrust us into and examine their solipsistic minds, subverting the usual use of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters to powerful effect.

However, I suspect that this is not the case.

It’s clear to me that Suzuma’s heavily introspective, densely descriptive writing style will appeal to many. But personally, I found the prose distastefully soapy and melodramatic. The viewpoints of Lochan and Maya were strikingly similar and also ridden with language that felt awkward, so I was never fully convinced that this was a story narrated by teenagers. What little action takes place in the book is interspersed with long, ponderous interludes of the characters’ angsting over their mutual attraction and subsequent horror as they consider the ramifications of it. This is a book largely dependent on the tension (especially sexual) between the characters in order to balance the long internal ruminations which were, even for me, tedious.

However, I was always conscious of Suzuma’s presence behind the scenes, pulling the characters’ strings. This is especially evident in some of the dialogue, where Lochan and Maya muse on the outside world’s hypothetical response to their relationship, to the judgement they would be subjected to should they be found out. At this point, Lochan and Maya ceased to be characters and sounded more like mouthpieces, which bothered me immensely. I am capable of reaching my own opinions and making up my own mind. I do not appreciate being clunked over the head with poorly veiled commentary. I won’t go so far as to say that I think there was a particular agenda being pushed - I don’t know that, after all. But in these sections the dialogue felt out of place and laboured, in a bald-faced effort to make the reader question, and ultimately sympathise with their predicament.

Similarly, the characters’ (Maya in particular) preoccupation with how their love transcends sibling bonds also felt like a manipulative reach for sympathy. I can’t help but think this novel would have been all the more powerful had it not relied so heavily upon insistence that the characters don’t perceive each other as “brother” and “sister”, but rather as “soulmates”. Instead of being brutally realistic, straight-talking and heartbreaking, this pushed things into the realms of PNR-style tropes and creepy wish fulfilment for me.

And on the topic of “creepy”: Lochan. While I sympathised with his emotional and mental struggles, and I think his experience with anxiety was portrayed with a great deal of insight, I hated the manner in which his mental illness was used as a plot device. I hated the fact that he engaged in sexual activity with a girl who, sister or not, had just suffered a head injury. I hated this book’s fixation on his sexual gratification. I have no strong comments on the explicitness of the intimate scenes, that’s up to each reader’s personal taste. However I objected to the romanticised tone – it’s all exploding suns and ecstasy and oh-so-wonderful and it has me wondering what exactly the intention is? To make readers believe in their connection? To simply be honest? To shock?

And a plain fact of the matter is – even if these two were not related by blood – I still would not be shipping them, on the basis of Lochan’s propensity for violence and jealousy alone. Again, I do not take issue with the portrayal of dysfunctional relationships in fiction, whatsoever. This is simply, sadly, reality for many. But I do feel that care needs to be taken with the subtext that is being communicated.

I thought the characterisation of the younger siblings was well done, and although Kit occasionally read a little older than his thirteen years, I did sympathise with him. Their interactions and responses to their home situation felt realistic to me, especially the way Willa and Tiffin’s awareness of their neglect occasionally seeped through. This, in my opinion, was the most heartbreaking part of the book – the fact that while not fully understanding why, they were cognizant of their abandonment and the fact that their lives were different. While Lochan and Maya have, for all intents and purposes, taken on the parental roles, their inherent immaturity was highlighted by the way their need to get into each other’s pants gradually took precedence over everything else. Which is realistic, of course, but felt at odds with the way I thought the story was trying to present them as an object of tragedy.

I have spoken in a previous review about my strong feelings on the commercialisation of grief, and how I deeply resent anything I perceive to be a grab for an emotional reaction. Which is why the ending and epilogue of Forbidden made me sick to my stomach. It felt gratuitous and tear-jerky in the most literal sense, a lunge for a strong reader response, the literary equivalent of going for the jugular. I strongly dislike seeing (view spoiler) used this way.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t want my rating to be misinterpreted, or taken as a statement that I don’t believe these kind of subjects have a place in literature, young adult or otherwise - because that is simply not the case. I just did not care for this approach – which I felt was exploitative, calculated and overwrought.

Obviously, many will disagree. Some will see this as the tragedy of neglect and abuse. Or a thought-provoking challenge to the parameters we put around “acceptable” love. Or a heartbreaking examination of society failing its young people. Or just a love story. There are plenty of excellent reviews that discuss these interpretations.

But I’m afraid this book simply didn’t prove groundbreaking or revelatory to me. What I wanted to be complex and respectful felt melodramatic and toxic, a serious subject sacrificed on the altar of “edginess”.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 55) (55 new)

Amber J. I belong to the group of people that loved this book, but I didn't like the ending either. I think maybe she thought that act was necessary because a tragic end would ensure the book stayed with us once we put it down.
Also, I didn't like Maya but I liked Lochan, which is weird because everyone says they sound alike lol. I actually thought she was the aggressor most of the time, but that's why I like reading other people's interpretation of books I've read. Thanks for pointing out certain points I had missed -- great review :)

Reynje Thanks Amber :) You may be right about the ending, which is exactly why I didn't like it!

I spent a lot of time reading other reviews of this book while I was thinking about it - it's definitely interesting to see the ways people responded to it. It definitely gets a reaction, one way or the other :)

Nomes LOVING this review Reynje.

I felt exactly the same way. In fact, every time I think back on this book, my distaste for it grows (if that is even possible).

When I one starred it and wrote my review, i was the only one of my friends who didn't like it. It was a lonely place among all the 5 star raves and tales of weeping.

I think the author very skillfully (manipulatively) gets readeers onside in this one, and most are blindsided to Lochan's obsessive and creepy behaviour. It is very PNR (right down to him looking like some kind of Greek God)

That ending. I knew it was coming (how could you not?). I still can't figure out what kind of statement she was trying to make, if one at all? Or maybe she was just going for the biggest, sensatoinalist shock to get her readers enraged and raving. Ugh.

Nice to meet someone with a similar reaction.

Reynje Thanks Nomes :) Originally, I wasn't sure whether to post my review. I know a lot of people love it. But I re-read yours the other day after I wrote this, and I think it gave me the courage to just do it.

I was talking about this with a friend last night. I recall the wave of positive reviews and seeing this book being read all over the place. Maybe my delay in reading it was a factor in this review? It's possible :)

As you probably gathered (I started off kind of light hearted, then got all wound up, haha) I have strong feelings about it. I wanted to fling my kindle at something. That ending made me extremely angry - I just felt the way triggering issues were dealt with was repugnant.

Anyway, agreed - it's nice to not be alone on this :)

Choco I've read the first two chapters and was unsure if I wanted to continue on. (view spoiler) With that and everything in your review, I've decided this is not the book for me. Thanks for your honesty. Loved your review.

Reynje Thanks Choco. My past work experience made this a book I couldn't warm too. At all. That may not be the case for everyone - but you know best what book is for you and what isn't :)

Nomes Ahh, yesh, I felt bad posting my review, but then surprisingly good. Ans a lot of my friends who loved the book gave me really good feedback on my review. I think I could have gone even harder, but I felt bold enough as it was (haha). Back then, I was reading 4 and 5 star reviews every second day for this book :)

message 8: by Vinaya (new) - added it

Vinaya This is a great review. And extra big, bonus brownie points for using solipsistic in what is (almost) regular conversation! ;)

I still haven't been able to bring myself to read this book; I think Flowers in the Attic scarred me for life. But, of course, I have clicked on ALL TEH SPOILERS and I know exactly what happens, so I can't help wondering if the end came about this way because plot-wise Suzuma didn't really have much of a choice. (view spoiler) I'm speculating, of course, since I haven't actually read the book!

message 9: by jo (new) - added it

jo mo +clap+
wonderful review, i've been dreading reading this book and now i shall just put it on the dropped-for-all-eternity shelf unless i may change my mind (fat chance!) sometime in the future.

Reynje Thanks Vinaya - I'll try to slip 'ensconced' into my next review :)

I think you're probably right about the ending and why it was written that way. It does make me wonder, (view spoiler). I understand why the plot played out this way - but I just couldn't get past the way it was written, which to me, felt romanticised. Moral of the story is, I should probably just trust my instincts in future :)

Joe, thanks! To be fair, I may be in the minority here. A lot of people really like this book. But if you're dreading it - maybe that's not a good sign :/

message 11: by Jasprit (new) - added it

Jasprit An amazing review Rey, I've still yet to pick this one up, but its great to see such a detailed review about this book such as yours. And I completely understand your reasoning for not liking it. Thanks Rey for a great review, sometimes you need a different perspective amongst all the 5 star reviews, it definitely helps me in making a decision about picking up a book or not :)

Reynje Thanks Jasprit - and if you do read it, I'd love to hear what you think. I'm always interested in my friends' opinions on stuff like this. It's a pretty polarising book - if think it either works or it doesn't, depending on the reader :)

message 13: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I swear I already posted on this thread...but wonderful review, as always ;) I really don't thinkI want to read this now...

Reynje I know you commented on the 'damned roof' thread - because I laughed really loudly at work when it was deadly silent :)

Thanks Maree!

message 15: by Michelle (new)

Michelle haha :) where do you work? did everybody stare - in that case I'm sorry...wait what were you doing on GR at work? and I seriously did write on this, but maybe I didn't press post lol :D

Amy (Turn the Page) Great review! The best I've read on this book actually.

I also gave this a low rating and negative review - because I was so disturbed by Lochan, the emphasis on his gratification over Maya's and how it felt like we were meant to understand that they were deeply in love.

I've lost count of the number of reviews where people were desperate for them to end up together - which is fine, but, ironically it was the incest that I had the least problem with while reading!

Reynje The company I work for at the moment is pretty easy going - as long as everyone gets their work done, they don't really care. Also, I think my colleagues are used to me cackling away at my desk by now :)

Reynje Amy (Turn the Page) wrote: "Great review! The best I've read on this book actually.

I also gave this a low rating and negative review - because I was so disturbed by Lochan, the emphasis on his gratification over Maya's and..."

Thank you Amy! I think we're on the same page with this one. I some major issues with it, but likewise, the incest was the least of it.

Emily May I know we felt differently, but I still enjoyed reading your thoughtful review :)

Reynje Thanks Emily, I really appreciate that :) I was a bit nervous posting my review because i know a lot of my friends experienced this book differently. Which is the great thing about reading I guess :)

message 21: by Kate (new)

Kate Copeseeley A well written and thoughtful review. Thank you.

Reynje Kate wrote: "A well written and thoughtful review. Thank you."

Thank you, Kate :)

Laura Hey Reynje—I love reading different points of views on books! Truly an amazing review. I just love how books can pull such different reactions out of each and every heart!

Reynje Thanks Laura - I totally agree :)

Alyssa You've highlighted a lot of the issues I had with the book - the commercialization of grief, as you put it, the writing style and the characterization between Maya and Lochan. This is a really detailed, well-written review, Reynje. :)

message 26: by Jo (last edited Feb 09, 2012 03:55PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jo Rey, I think we have the same brain sometimes. This review is exactly what I thought.

Just to let you know, I'm waiting for a plane so I can come and high-five you for this review.

While I'm there we might as well run around Melbourne and get up to mischief and also cuddle.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Terrific review, Reynje:)

The reviews are mixed, ranging from raving five stars to dissatisfied, disturbed one star reviews. I myself am one of the few who have yet to read this, but to say I'll pick this up slightly biased is an understatement..

I hate it when authors manipulate the reader's emotions, though. *shudders* if it becomes the case with this book, I'll abandon it so fast it won't even see it coming.

message 28: by Reynje (last edited Feb 09, 2012 05:14PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Reynje Thanks Alyssa :) Grief is always a complex issue for me when it comes to books, and it can be difficult for me to express why clearly, sometimes.

Jo! Brain-twin! High-fives, bike-riding and copious amounts of tea-drinking await you in Melbourne. Do you like cats? I'll take you to the Astor Theatre to watch old films and introduce you to Marzipan, the resident kitty.

Thank you Leanne - you're right, this book has a really wide range of responses and I've read a lot of different takes on it. Maybe you'll feel differently to me, but I'd be interested to see what you think either way :)

message 29: by Jo (new) - rated it 1 star

Jo :-O
Marzipan? I'm in. I'M IN. :)

Reynje She is adorable

message 31: by Jo (new) - rated it 1 star

Jo Oh my gosh, that is fantastic. I love her.
That theatre is stunning by the way! :-O

Also, did someone mention a choc-ice?

Reynje Yes indeed :)

It's a very cool place, I took my friend there to see Gone With The Wind, as she'd never seen the film before. Perfect theatre for the occasion!

Lisa (Fic Talk) I appreciate your honest review, Reynje. I've had a major issue from the very beginning about whether or not to read this book and had decided that I would not.

I just couldn't bring myself to read this alone. I guess it's because I am so close to my older brother and I couldn't imagine a scenario like this happening. EVER.

However, I am now in the beginning stages of starting up a book club and had just suggested it because of the topics discussed in the book. And they now want to read it so we can get the different view points from each person and I'm STILL SO SCEPTICAL ABOUT IT. Not just the incest issue, but the mental health problems and the subsequent tragic ending.


message 34: by Riley (new)

Riley I haven't read the book, but I really appreciate how thoughtful and intelligent your review is. You present a strong case for why YOU did not enjoy the book, without bashing it or the author in any way. Well done.

Reynje @ Lisa, thanks for your comment :) I can see why this book would lend itself to book club scenario - because it's definitely discussion-worthy and opinions on it are extremely varied.

Personally, I was not comfortable with the way the issues in this book were handled. I feel that the subtext was quite harmful. Then again, it's possible that there's no way to write about these subjects that will work for every reader. If you and your book club read it, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are.

@Riley - thank you! I spend quite a bit of time on reviews like this because I want to express myself honestly and clearly, without disregarding/disrespecting other opinions. Doesn't always work, but I try! :) I'm a big believer that books belong to the readers and everyone has the right to their personal interpretation..

Lisa (Fic Talk) Dude, we haven't even read it yet and we're already discussing the incest issue! But we'll be getting to it in a couple of months.

I'll let you know then! :D

message 37: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Oh gosh. How could you write something like this?! Keen observations and profound words. Forbidden has been on my radar since I read the synopsis and I only heard good things about it from people who somehow connected with the story, one way or another. I think yours is the first review on the other side of the spectrum I've read. But definitely I've heard about the ending as well, and I still honestly want to see it for myself. I'm pretty intrigued about the subject too because it'll be my first "incest book" if ever. Splendid review, Reynje! :D

Lizzie I really liked your review :) expect my only issue is that i don't think it's necessary a bad thing when young adult writers use bigger vocabulary when writing in the POV of a teenager. I think books should challenge readers and exposing teens(such as myself) to bigger vocab they normally wouldn't see in their normal reading experience. :)

Reynje Lizzie wrote: "I really liked your review :) expect my only issue is that i don't think it's necessary a bad thing when young adult writers use bigger vocabulary when writing in the POV of a teenager. I think boo..."

Thanks Lizzie :) I don't think more complex language in YA is a bad thing, in fact the opposite, I just didn't think it sounded particularly realistic in this case..

Lizzie yeah I can see that, especially when they were about contemplating the social wrongs of relationship and talking about how society puts this unfair label on it. it felt (like you mentioned) as if the author was talking and not the characters. lol, reminded of me of the Jungle by Uptin Sinclair...

Heather *Thermonuclear Bomb of Death* Couldn't agree more with this review.

Reynje Heather wrote: "Couldn't agree more with this review."

Thanks Heather - it was a tough one to write :)

message 43: by Kim (new)

Kim I haven't read 'Forbidden' (and I'm not sure I'm going to - not because I object to confronting topics being displayed in novels, but because I'm not sure *I* could handle them) But I loved your review. It was so honest and detailed. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Reynje Kim wrote: "I haven't read 'Forbidden' (and I'm not sure I'm going to - not because I object to confronting topics being displayed in novels, but because I'm not sure *I* could handle them) But I loved your re..."

Thanks Kim! This one seems to really polarise readers.. Like you, it's not the subject matter that bothered me, but the way it was handled. It really didn't work for me. That said, it's always good to hear other people's thoughts :)

message 45: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Alphonse Would I be a horrible person if I told you that I would have loved this book if Maya had decided to end it all too at the end? Maybe... >.>

But for a book that I picked to read purely out of boredom with no expectations ever, I have to say that it was spectacular (sorry :P) - then again, at 19 years old and harboring a slightly disturbing fascination with angst I guess I never stood a chance :)

message 46: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Alphonse *whatsoever

Reynje Beautyandbeast5 wrote: "Would I be a horrible person if I told you that I would have loved this book if Maya had decided to end it all too at the end? Maybe... >.>

But for a book that I picked to read purely out of bore..."

I wouldn't comment on what kind of person you are, as I don't know you. But I am curious as to why you think Maya deciding to kill herself would have made you love the book more? To me, that would have demonstrated a gross misunderstanding (not to mention offensive portrayal) of mental illness and suicide.

message 48: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Alphonse I didn't come in expecting any great debates on social ideologies or prevailing issues so for me the part that stood out, the part that I actively searched for and examined closely, was the love story. I guess I felt that after everything they'd been through, that they should at least have had the chance to be together after death. For a love story so intense, however doomed, the ending left me with a bad taste in my mouth - there was no punishment for the brother who betrayed them, there was no justice for the wayward mother, and Maya herself is just left to go about life as usual. It seems wrong somehow, that such a monumental event is followed by...nothing. For a relationship that was based in such unhealthy co-dependency, it seems unrealistic (and unsatisfying) that Maya just goes on.

I realise my opinion has some personal underlying roots that I'm going to ignore for now, but like I said before - for a love story that intense it deserved an ending just as intense.

message 49: by Reynje (last edited Jul 18, 2013 06:37PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Reynje Beautyandbeast5 wrote: "I didn't come in expecting any great debates on social ideologies or prevailing issues so for me the part that stood out, the part that I actively searched for and examined closely, was the love st..."


This is the point at which I’ll acknowledge that there are fundamental differences in our approach to this book; and suggest we agree to disagree :)

While I certainly respect that each reader will read and interpret any given book differently (and after all, that’s what makes reviewing so interesting to me), I personally cannot call this book a “love story”. Do I think that the characters believed they loved each other? Sure. However, you yourself acknowledged that it’s an unhealthy relationship. I can’t read this book any other way than as a portrayal of two teenagers who lived in dysfunctional circumstances with tragic results. To suggest that their love was so intense, a double suicide would have been a fitting – even rewarding (?) end, just really does not sit well with me.

That’s simply not how mental illness and suicide work.

And I can’t stomach the use of mental illness and suicide as some kind of romantic trope or poetic justice.

As for Kit, I feel pity for his character. He cannot have known how Lachan would respond to his actions. From Kit’s perspective, one could argue that he not only believed he was doing the right thing, but he was doing the right thing. I guess that’s up to the reader, though. I do feel intensely sad for him.

As for Maya, I choose to believe that she could go on to heal and recover, and live a functional, happy life and have the opportunity to love if that’s what she wanted. I don’t see her a victim of a romantic tragedy, I see her as a survivor of traumatic situation.

I get that you read this book differently, however, so I’ll leave it at that.

message 50: by Kathyrin (new) - added it

Kathyrin Reed wrong

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