Saturday, 17 September 2011
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
When I was a teenager, my favourite author was Robert Cormier. He broke new ground in the 70s when he published his debut novel, The Chocolate War, and, along with other notable authors such as S E Hinton, radicalised the young adult genre. His writing was thought-provoking, edgy, daring; he relished tackling dark and difficult scenarios; his endings were often bleak and uncompromising; and Cormier went on to become one of the most celebrated YA authors – as well as one of the most banned by US librarians. He had a talent for taking the most outrageous or controversial subjects and exploring them with a brutal honesty, avoiding preaching, moralising, or sensationalism. I’ve been looking for a modern day author to inherit his crown for some time – and I may have just found that writer in Tabitha Suzuma.
‘Forbidden’ is Tabitha’s fifth novel and the first I’ve read by her. I bought this novel because I loved the cover, black with a thorny heart patterned on the cover, which perfectly captures the dark romance of the book. Before you start thinking that this is a paranormal romance, I’ll stop you there – for this is a book which explores a modern-day Romeo and Juliet scenario, a tale of forbidden love – but the hero and heroine are brother and sister.
Maya is 16 and has never been kissed; Lochie is 17 and shy and intelligent. They have three younger siblings and a mother who is a drunk and neglects them half the time to hang out with her boyfriend. As a result, Maya and Lochie have become the father and mother of their family, supervising homework, doing the washing-up, desperately trying to keep Social Services at bay. Tabitha slowly builds up the tension until it becomes unbearable; you feel that Maya and Lochie cannot survive and will have to snap, one way or another. Thus, the ugly concept of incest is turned on its head, for when they begin to feel romantic feelings for each other, their relationship becomes redemptive, a salvation for both of them, a chance for them to retreat from the burden of being adults – ironically, a chance to become innocent again, carefree, teenagers in love.
I read and enjoyed Ian McEwan’s brilliant ‘The Cement Garden’ many years ago; I savoured the cool, cynical, amoral voice of the narrator. ‘Forbidden’ is, in mood and tone, quite the reverse of McEwan’s novel, for the novel is told in alternating voices, between Maya and Lochan, in prose soaked with emotion, with passion and pain and longing. One of the greatest strengths of the novel is the fact that Suzuma never judges her characters, never moralises, and is neither inhibited by her subject matter, nor caught up in trying to shock – she simply dives into their feelings, and presents them with naked, raw honesty. The result is a novel of tremendous power. It is 9 months since I read it but I still remember how much the ending shocked me and made me shed tears. It is sophisticated enough to appeal to adults as well as teenagers; in fact, I think her publishers should publish an adult edition - it would sell by the truckload.
Forbidden: published 2010 by Definitions
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE