Recently, I had this exchange in the staff lunchroom while reading Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden:
Co-worker: What’s your book about?
Me: Um. Among other things, consensual incest.
At this point, all other conversation died out and everyone turned to stare at me.
Co-worker: Don’t you just read books for teenagers?
Me: Mostly. And it’s a YA book, yeah.
And then I panicked and gave the whole room finger-guns.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on books to ward off the winter blahs.
Days later, I’m still getting weird looks in the hallway.
Sigh. The life of an adult YA aficionado is fraught with peril.
It’s certainly not like incest is a new topic to YA: Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now* and Elizabeth Hand’s Illyria are both fabulous books in which first cousins have a sexual relationship. And, of course, if you’re about my age, you’ve probably read V.C. Andrews’ far-less fabulous—and somewhat rapey—Flowers in the Attic. (Which does deal with siblings, but wasn’t originally published for the YA market. Not that that stopped anyone in my middle school from reading it.)
But. Forbidden. In terms of situation, it’s actually quite similar to Flowers in the Attic—like the Dollangangers, Lochan and Maya Whitely are forced to step into parental roles because of their amazingly unreliable and neglectful mother**. Like the Dollangangers, the Whitely children know they have to keep their situation a secret—not because they’re literally locked in an attic, but because they know that if the authorities become aware of their situation, the five siblings will be split up.
Also like Flowers in the Attic, the narration—Lochan and Maya alternate chapters—and dialogue often make the characters sound like they’re decades older than they actually are. In Flowers in the Attic, that quirk just adds to the general awfulness of the book. In Forbidden, it almost works. What does work is that it’s easy to imagine a superbright, somewhat pretentious and mega-tormented 17-year-old boy writing something like this in his journal***:
A single day encompasses so much. The frantic morning routine: trying to make sure everyone eats breakfast, Tiffin’s high-pitched voice jarring my ears, Willa’s continuous chatter fraying my nerves, Kit relentlessly reinforcing my guilt with his every gesture, and Maya…it’s best if I don’t think about Maya. But perversely I want to. I must chafe at the wound, scrape back the scab, pick at the damaged skin. I cannot leave the thought of her alone.
What doesn’t work is that Maya’s voice, while slightly less melodramatic, is almost indistinguishable from her brother’s. It all gets to be more than a little exhausting.
Oddly enough, I could see Forbidden going over well with some—some—Twilight fans. Because of the melodrama, sure, but mostly because Lochan is strikingly similar to Edward Cullen. He’s moody and tortured; overprotective and occasionally violent; doesn’t notice that the entire female population of his high school is panting after him because he Only Has Eyes for Maya; craves a potentially damaging relationship even though it will likely ruin both of their lives; watches his beloved while she sleeps; and is prone to moaning things like, “How can something so wrong feel so right?”
I mean, assuming that said Twilight fan doesn’t immediately veto it based on the whole incest thing. Or the sex.
Have you read it? What did you think? I’ve heard such differing opinions on it that I’m really curious to know.
**Seriously. She makes the mother in The Rules of Survival look... well, not better, but trust me: The only predictable thing about the mother in Forbidden is that in any given situation, she’ll always do the most selfish, inappropriate or drunk thing possible.
***Whether or not reading it is actually enjoyable is debatable.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is impatiently waiting for the next winter share from her CSA.