Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Summary: 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 Thoughts: As you can already probably tell from the summary, the relationship depicted by this book is far from normal. I had been hearing about it from several different blogs that I follow and decided to pick it up because reviews were fairly good and I was sort of shocked at just how exactly an author could write a book about an incestual relationship and make it… decent?

Suzuma’s writing is definitely far better than decent. It’s absorbing, gripping, engaging, and from the very beginning you see just how difficult Maya and Lochan’s lives are. Their drunk mother is completely absent and such a horrifyingly bad parent that it made me so angry for the kids. Lochan and Maya are completely in charge of their younger siblings and have to deal with making dinner every night, picking up and dropping off their two youngest siblings at school, reeling in a rebellious, lashing-out brother, and all this on top of their regular schoolwork. I was constantly anxious and worried for them and how their situation was going to pan out. Suzuma write their lives and sufferings and occasional lovely joys so convincingly.

You can see just exactly how Maya and Lochan begin falling into each other. There is no one else around. There is no one else they can depend on and confide in and love. I saw it happen and while I understood it, I was slamming on the brakes in my head the whole time. Once their clandestine romance began I couldn’t understand it truly. The societal and cultural taboo threw up an immediate wall for me, and Suzuma’s beautiful writing couldn’t get me through it.

I was still desperate to know what happened to them, all the way up to the end. And boy was it an ending. Forbidden was perfectly paced and engrossing and definitely well written.

I wouldn’t say I was convinced or involved in the romance–but that’s not truly the point. The best and most successful part of Forbidden was the story of 5 children who loved each other trying to make it absolutely on their own in a world that had little sympathy or use for them.

Author Website: http://www.tabithasuzuma.com/

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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Summary: Estha and Rahel are twins born eighteen minutes apart in India. When they are seven years old, their cousin Sophie Mol visits from England; a cataclysmic event happens which tears the family apart. Estha and Rahel are reunited again years later as adults, and must deal with the fact that when they were young, their lives were destroyed by the “Love Laws”, which lay down the rules of “who must be loved, and how, and how much”.

My Thoughts: No summary could do this book justice. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize, Roy’s novel completely blew me away. I was bored by the synopsis on the back cover, but thought I would give it a try anyway (not that I had much choice; I was in Guatemala with a very limited number of English books).

Roy creates a lush, enveloping, buzzing, and foreshadowed world in The God of Small Things. She tells the story out of chronological order, and continuously references the event known as The Loss of Sophie Mol, a mysterious happening that everyone tiptoes around. There are flashbacks and tangents all over the place. Webs of stories and snippets of life spread out everywhere. Even now, after finishing it, I’m not sure how she pulled it off. It was a delicate net that settled down over me. And it worked. Perfectly. Tragically.

I wouldn’t describe many books as A Work of Art, but The God of Small Things definitely was.

The God of Small Things is about love, and forbidden love, and class, and betrayal. There is also history and politics, smoothly woven into the background of India, where the story takes place.

Highly recommended. Strange and different from anything else I’ve ever read. Another best book read in 2011.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Summary: The Mulvaneys are blessed by all that makes life sweet—a hardworking father, a loving mother, three fine sons, and a bright, pretty daughter. They are confident in their love for each other and their position in the rural community of Mt. Ephraim, New York. But something happens on Valentine’s Day, 1976—an incident that is hushed up in the town and never spoken of in the Mulvaney home—that rends the fabric of their family life.

As the years pass the secrets they keep from each other threaten to destroy them, but ultimately they bridge the chasms between them, and reunite in the spirit of love and healing. Rarely has such an acclaimed writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

My Thoughts: My first exposure to Oates’ writing was with The Female of the Species, her short story collection. And I stopped about halfway through the book because I was too scared to keep reading. There are several reasons for this. Number one, I am a huge scaredy-cat. I never watch scary movies. Can’t handle it. Number two, Oates’ writing has this quality that I cannot describe except to say that at times it is too real. Too close for comfort. I have experienced this once before when I was unable to finish The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the same reasons. Too real–and thus it scared me.

We Were the Mulvaneys had a similar quality but less so, and I was so engrossed in the life of the characters that I was able to finish it. And I’m glad I did. Oates takes a tragedy and expands it, entrapping you in the story and making you desperate to find out what happens to everyone in the aftermath. And it’s definitely tragic. But also hopeful.

Forever Today by Deborah Wearing

COVER forever today by deborah wearingRating: 8 out of 10
Summary: The man who lost his memory: the story of an English musician crippled by total amnesia, and the wife who tried to find a cure, then ran away to start her life over, and finally came back to him.

Clive Wearing is one of the most famous, extreme cases of amnesia ever known. In 1985, while at the height of his success as a conductor and BBC music producer, a virus completely destroyed the memory part of his brain, leaving him trapped in a limbo of the constant present where every conscious moment was as if he had just woken from a ten-year coma. For seven years he was kept in the general ward of a London hospital while his wife Deborah campaigned for better conditions and searched hopelessly for a cure. As damaged as Clive was, the musical part of his brain was unaffected, as was his passionate love for Deborah.

Finding there was no way to bring Clive back, Deborah eventually fled to America to start her life again. Then, miraculously, in their transatlantic phone calls she noticed Clive starting to recover some of his memory, and she was pulled back to England. Today, although he still lives in care, they are closer than ever.

This is the story of an extreme condition that is a reminder of what it means to be human. It is also a woman’s quest to understand, control, and escape from a nightmare. Finally, it is insight into a bond that runs deeper than conscious thought, a love overcoming the most tragic handicap.

My Thoughts: Wearing is a good writer, something I’m always a little skeptical about when I first pick up memoirs. The narrative was good and she explained her husband’s condition and their subsequent life changes very well. Touching, tragic, and romantic.