Review: Forbidden

Forbidden Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Summary: With their mother either off with her boyfriend or drunk, Lochan and Maya have spent most of the last five years since their dad left caring for their three younger siblings. Lochan is cracking under the strain of making good grades at school and dealing with 13-year-old Kit, who has fallen in with a bad crowd. Maya attempts to be normal and date, but both she and Lochan have realized, as they play mom and dad, that they depend on one another and care about each other much more than siblings should.

Flowers in the Attic this is not

This book is like a serious, well-written version of Flowers in the Attic. I cringe even comparing the two. That book takes the idea of brother-sister incest (really, all kinds of incest) and makes it into shocking and horrifying family secrets. This book, however, takes that concept and actually delves into how two siblings might grow to love each other that way, and how they feel about the realization. Maya and Lochan both love each other and know that other people will think they are disgusting for feeling that way, and yet they can’t help how they feel. Their home situation, with absentee parents, puts them in an interesting position where they don’t feel like children, or even like their other siblings. In the end, the legal consequences of such a relationship are explored as well as the emotional consequences.  The ending was sad, be forewarned! As for parental advisory, some swearing, and there are fairly graphic descriptions that are – dare I say – quite steamy.

Incest in YA

When Janina recommended this book, she said she had picked it up curious about how an incestuous relationship might be handled in a YA book.  She was surprised when I told her I could list a number of books about incest in YA that were brother/sister or cousin (not about an abusive adult/child relationship).

  • Wasteland by Francesca Lia Block
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  • The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (she already knew about this one)
  • Illyria by Elizabeth Hand (I haven’t read this one)
  • Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (not YA but read by many teens, I was maybe 13 when I read it)

YA has been evolving.  Back in the days of Flowers in the Attic, a young adult book that focused on incest was called a “problem novel.”  Most of the YA novels dealing with incest from that time involved parent/child or adult relative/child incest, and the book deals with the fallout.  Up until the late 1990s-early 2000s, most YA books about edgy topics were still “problem novels.”  Anorexia, depression, gangs, drug use, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, terminal cancer.  These topics were problems, and the teen in question had to deal with it.  “Problem novels” taught a lesson about how drug use was bad, and teen pregnancy was bad, and the characters learned from their mistakes.

In Flowers in the Attic, the concept of incest is used to shock the reader.  I never bought into the idea that Cathy and Chris were in love.  And the idea that their parents were also related (I believe it was an uncle/niece) was even more horrifying.  In almost every single V.C. Andrews novel, incest and rape are used for shock value.

Now, however, YA literature is less about teaching morals and more about realism and art. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Cut by Patricia McCormick were a couple of the first YA books that still had a bit of the “problem novel” format, but which broke the mold of a simplified solution and moral lesson.  Realistically, there is no simple solution to teen pregnancy, or anorexia, or any of the others.  There are many complex emotions and situations involved.

In the more recent YA novels involving incest, the authors examine the feelings of the teens involved, and give us the picture of two siblings whose overwhelming feelings lead them to consider what is shocking and disgusting to the outside world.

There are still people who believe that literature for young adults (often referred to as “children”) should teach a moral lesson, and if it doesn’t, that literature is dangerous.  Is a book examining love between siblings romanticizing such a situation?  I’m pretty sure no one who has read this book, or the Mortal Instruments, has then looked at their siblings and thought, “Hey, why not?”

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