Goodreads Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives--and the way they understand each other so completely--has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My Review: I want to thank Winterhaven Books, a wonderful blog, who hosted a terrific interview with the author, Tabitha Suzuma. I would also like to thank Tabitha, for sending me a beautiful hardcover and signed copy of Forbidden. It has made its way into my heart and also my favorite books bookshelf.
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma is about two siblings, Lochan and Maya, who are closer than most. They have been placed in an impossible situation-- a father who has abandoned them and a mother who is an alcoholic who tries to forget they exist as well as three younger siblings that they take care of in addition to their heavy load of schoolwork. It is clear that they can only depend on each other and that no one else can understand their situation. But this abnormal situation leads to an even more dysfunctional outcome-- they fall in love. As their feelings for each other accelerate, they strive to keep their home life as normal as possible for the other children. It is a tricky balance to maintain, and unsurprisingly, everything starts to fall apart.
I have to give major props to Tabitha. This book was an extremely risky one to write with its very taboo subject of incest. She took a very repugnant topic that most people can't even think about without gagging, and introduced two very compelling and relatable characters who are caught in a situation that they never wanted to be in. You can't help but fall in love with both Lochan and Maya and almost root for them, knowing that this relationship can't end in any good way. The prose is absolutely beautiful, and devastatingly so. Suzuma writes gorgeously, and I felt swept away by both the emotion in the alternating voices of her protagonists as well as the rich description she embodies in her text. The pacing is pitch perfect, and the supporting characters are deftly drawn.
Overall, this book is a risk that pays off-- Suzuma has written a masterpiece--a novel that will stand the test of time. This story will haunt you for days to come.
Author Blurb: Tabitha Suzuma is a British award-winning author of six books. A Note of Madness, From Where I Stand, A Voice in the Distance, and Without Looking Back. Her most recent, Hurt, will be out in September 2013. Her last book, Forbidden, a controversial and hard-hitting book about sibling incest, was translated into six languages and won the Premio Speciale Cariparma for European Literature Award as well as being nominated for a number of others. She has won the Young Minds Book Award and the Stockport Book Award. Her books have been shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award, the Lancashire Book of the Year Award, the Catalyst Book Award, the Stockport Book Award, the Jugendliteraturpreis Book Award and nominated for the Waterstone’s Book Prize and the Carnegie Medal. She is currently working on her seventh book, They Tell Me It Rained, due out in 2014.
Interview with Tabitha
1. I loved reading your bio on your website. Can you tell us a little bit about what kinds of stories you would daydream about in class?
I wasn't a very good student. I spent most of my time at school sitting at the back of the class, pretending to take notes, whereas really I was writing stories. I was horse-mad in my early teens so my first stories were mostly along the lines of: teenage girl rescues mistreated horse, nurses him back to health, starts riding him in competitions and wins loads of rosettes. Then falls in love with a rebellious motorbike-riding daredevil who looks exactly like Christian Slater in the movie Heathers while on her way to becoming show-jumping champion. Those were my very first stories and took up several exercise books. I did branch out quite quickly though!
2. Where do you go or what do you do for inspiration?
I go for walks, by the sea if I can - I am completely and utterly obsessed with the sea. If I find myself by the sea, whatever time of year it is, I have to swim. I once swam in the British channel in my underwear in February when it was hailing. But music is my greatest source of inspiration. My debut novel, A Note of Madness (2006), was born out of my lifelong obsession with music, mainly classical, and in particular Rachmaninov. The novel is about Flynn, a teenage piano prodigy who falls prey to bipolar disorder as he struggles to master the notoriously difficult Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. So the piece, as well as my own struggles with the illness, inspired the whole book. I have always loved music and used to skip lessons at school to sneak into the music room where I started teaching myself the piano. My brother, concert pianist Shin Suzuma, was born when I was fourteen and started picking out tunes on my keyboard before he could even walk. I was determined he should have every opportunity to become the concert pianist that I felt he was destined to be, so began teaching him. Today he is finishing his studies at the Royal Academy of Music and embarking on this very career. His music room was above my study, so he provides me with a live soundtrack to all my books.
3. What is the most unusual thing that has ever happened to you?
Hm, that's a tricky one. Lots of unusual things have happened to me, good and bad - I haven't had a very 'usual' life! I suppose leaving school at fourteen was the most unusual and possibly the most character-forming. I come from a background where not finishing school or not going to university was practically unthinkable. I had to fight long and hard to get my freedom at fourteen. It was a ten year battle, starting from the first day of school when I was four. That first day, I cried non-stop. Over the next ten years, I gradually learned to stop crying, but I think my hatred of school only grew. At one point I even had a plan to burn the school down. I hated authority with a passion. I hated the style of teaching at my particular school. I hated 'the system'. I played truant constantly and when I got dragged to school, behaved so badly (e.g. throwing my friend's shoes out of a fourth floor window) that I hoped I would get expelled. In the end it got to a point where my parents could no longer physically force me to go. So I left, did my exams by distance learning, and got myself a job working with disabled kids, which I loved.
4. I, like many readers, read and loved Forbidden. Was there a character who surprised you? Who and why?
I supposed Kit surprised me the most. He almost didn't make it into the book. I started off with him in it but then worried there were too many different personalities in the family and tried to remove him. But without him it wasn't the same. I actually really liked Kit, despite him not being a very likeable character. For those who haven't read the book, Kit is a sullen and rebellious thirteen-year-old, the middle child in a family of five, angry at the world in general and at his absent parents in particular, and takes out all this frustration out on his older brother, Lochan. But he becomes a very important character - in a way that I wasn't expecting at all when I set out to write the book. In some ways he is also the most complex. We never see into his mind so we have to try to understand him by his actions and behavior. Many people have written to me to say how much they hate him, and I see why, but I don't feel that way at all. To me he is still a child, he is suffering, and his way of coping is by lashing out, without fully comprehending the consequences of his actions. I feel that deep down, he is a good kid.
5. Many of us cried (me included) in one particular heart wrenching scene in your book. When was the last time you read something that made you cry as hard? Which book was it and what scene was it?
I cried pretty hard at the end of The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy. Also at the end of The Hours by Michael Cunningham. And the end of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Those are three of my all-time favorite books and although their endings weren't devastating, they left a kind of hole in me, an all-consuming sadness about life in general.
6. I know you've talked about this before - but it is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Can you talk about the difficulties of writing about the taboo subject of incest and the feedback you've gotten from the public?
The biggest difficulty was making the story seem plausible. Consensual sibling incest does happen, but it's rare. I didn't want to 'cop out' by having the siblings raised apart or by revealing that they weren't actually related at all at the end of the story. I wanted this to be the real deal. But we are biologically wired to react strongly against the mere idea of being romantically and sexually involved with a sibling or any close family member. For good reason of course: interbreeding usually produces deformities in any offspring. So our reaction is Darwinian and innate. But, like a mental illness, things can go wrong – biologically or circumstantially or both.
About a year earlier I had toyed with the idea of writing a book about child carers, having been one myself. I realized that taken to extremes, here were circumstances exceptional enough to feed an incestuous relationship. With two teenage carers sharing the responsibility of parents, I could see how they might come to love and support and depend on each other in a way that the average brother and sister do not – the absence of parental love and the huge demands and responsibilities placed upon them pulling them close. In these circumstances they might seek comfort in each other, becoming isolated from the outside world and sharing a difficult and stressful existence that only they could understand, ultimately drawing them together into an inevitable but doomed romantic relationship.
The public's feedback has been stupendous. Wonderful but quite overwhelming. Forbidden was not just published here in the UK, but also in the US, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Greece and Thailand. There is currently an online campaign set up by Latin American readers to have the book published in Spanish. I receive messages daily not just from teenagers but also from adults all around the world. I've been to award ceremonies in Germany and Italy... It's definitely not a book for young teens and carries a warning label, but adults right up into their seventies have contacted me to say how much the book moved them. So many people have told me that they picked up the book out of morbid curiosity and were shocked by the topic, reading it while expecting to hate it, but that soon after they started, they found themselves rooting for Lochan and Maya and desperately wanted them to find some way to stay together and have a happy ending. Many readers have got very emotional, writing me long emails about how the book changed their outlook on the topic of consensual incest as well as love in general, or asking me to write a sequel, or an alternative happy-ever-after ending. I had braced myself for some angry or negative reviews but received surprisingly few.
7. I love that your brother is a concert pianist. What a talented family! What is your favorite classical piece?
It's hard to pick just one, but I would have to go with The Rach Three, otherwise known as Rachmaninov's Third Piano concerto. It's a piece that features prominently in my debut novel, A Note of Madness, and shortly after finishing the book I finally got to see my brother perform the piece with his university orchestra, a day I will never forget.
8. Can you talk about the importance of critique partners and an example of how your partner has affected your writing?
I never had a critique partner until I wrote my last novel, Hurt. I had terrible writers block for about a year, my publishers were waiting, and I was just desperate to get something off the ground. My best friend, Akiko Hart, was starting her first ever novel and so we decided that every week or so, we would exchange what we had written so far and give each other constructive criticism. It was really fantastic. It gave me a massive confidence boost because I value her opinion above anyone else's, but also know that she is a great fan of my work. Although as yet unpublished, she is excellent at plotting and full of ideas, but isn't at all afraid of telling me if she thinks something I write is rubbish. She'll just find a relatively kind way of phrasing it! That's the best kind of critique partner one can ask for, I think.
9. Can you tell us a little about Hurt, your next novel, without giving too much away?
Hurt is one of the harsher, grittier and more difficult books I have written. It's about a guy named Mathéo: a talented, privileged teenager who on the surface appears to have it all but deep down, harbors a terrible secret that threatens his life as he knows it, as well as the relationship he has with the only girl he has ever loved. Like Forbidden, it also deals with a taboo and potentially shocking and controversial subject. The story follows Mathéo as he battles with his secret, his past, the consequence of his actions, and ultimately attempts to achieve forgiveness and absolution.
GIVEAWAY: Tabitha has signed print editions on offer for the three most interesting comments. If you liked her interview or have any further questions for her, let her know here!