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.

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The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

My Thoughts: I found out about The DUFF at Angie’s blog, where she gave it a glowing review. YA novels about high school have become kind of hit-or-miss for me. I either really like them or am so bored by them that I can’t finish.

The DUFF definitely exceeded my expectations and as I was reading it I was making note of several things I was very impressed by and that I wanted to tell the author about.

1. I love the narration. Bianca’s voice is spot on and while I’m sure the author has probably received some flack from parent’s groups or uptight reviewers about the expletives, I think it was pitch perfect and never overdone. Teenagers talk a certain way, end of story.

2. The friendships. I’m not sure why this is such an issue, but in most of the YA novels I read that are aimed at girls, very rarely do we see much positive and fleshed-out interaction between two girls that are friends! It’s a problem. So many novels are too focused on the romance between The Girl and The Guy. While The DUFF definitely has romance, I was still very impressed by how real and unique the friendship between Bianca, Jessica, and Casey was. As well, Jessica and Casey weren’t just two blah-blah supporting characters, but had depth of their own. I appreciated that.

3. I wish I had read this book when I was in high school. The way the book dealt with sex and the horrible misogynist stereotypes forced on teenage girls as a result of sex was great. Having sex doesn’t make you a whore (even in a purely hookup relationship) and girls going around calling each other whores and sluts is probably one of the worst things about high school–and so many girls don’t even realize how it hurts themselves, as women, to do this. I wish I had realized this while in high school. I participated in this vicious cycle as a teenager and I didn’t see the light until college. I was frankly delighted with the way this was handled in The DUFF. Not preachy or full of it.

Can’t wait to read Keplinger’s next novel, Shut Out.

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A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Summary: It is 1906 and Mattie Gokey is trying to learn how to stand up like a man — even though she’s a sixteen-year-old girl. At her summer job at a resort on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack mountains, she will earn enough money to make something of her life.

That money could be a dowry to wed the handsome but dull Royal Loomis. It could save her father’s brokeback farm. Or it might buy her a train ticket to New York City and college and a life that she can barely allow herself to imagine.

But Mattie’s worries and plans are cast into a cold light when the drowned body of Grace Brown turns up – a young woman who gave Mattie a packet of love letters, letters that convince Mattie that the drowning was no accident.

Inspired by the sensational Chester Gillette murder case of 1906, which was also the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and the film A Place in the Sun, this story evokes novels such as To Kill a MockingbirdLittle Women, and other classics that hark back to times of lost innocence.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed A Northern Light, and I suspect I would have enjoyed it even more had I read it as a teenager in middle school or high school. Mattie is a great heroine, someone you want to cheer for throughout the novel. Both you and Mattie know what the right choice is, but Donnelly is convincing and skilled enough to make you feel the same confusion and indecision that Mattie does over certain circumstances in her life.

The murder of the young woman at Mattie’s hotel is billed as a large part of the plot and is based on true events–however, I was much less entranced with this aspect of the plot. I was way more interested in Mattie’s life and her family, friends, and her experiences.

Donnelly also wrote the novel in separate chronological narratives, which didn’t work that well in my opinion. It wasn’t that confusing, but I don’t think it was exactly necessary or even all that relevant.

Donnelly’s also written another series that I’m a big fan of, The Tea Rose Trilogy.

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Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances (Volumes 1-3) by Masami Tsuda

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: Straight As, athlete and overall “Ms. Popularity,” Yukino, is the perfect student. Or at least that”s how she appears to the outside world. But when the curtains are drawn, a lazy young egomaniac lurks who will do anything and everything to be the top student in her school. Yukino finds her resolve put to the test as after years as the Idol of her class a threat emerges in the MORE perfect Soiichiro. A good-natured, studious and athletic boy he is her equal in every way but one – that behind the act is a genuine heart driven to succeed. Yukino is desperate to regain her status anyway she can, but through embarrassing flub-ups at every turn, Soiichiro remains untouched even as they find respect for one another, and maybe, after all the dust has cleared, something more.

Commentary: This was a reread, and I still enjoyed it this time around. Kind of a cliche plotline and I know it sounds pretty phony and shallow from the summary, but Masami Tsuda does a good job of injecting both depth and lighthearted humor into this series.

The version I have is a compilation of volumes one through three, though the cover I have with this review is just of volume 3.

What I like most about Kare Kano (in English: His and Her Circumstances) are the funny bits–it might be a little bit outrageous at times, but on several occasions I’ve laughed out loud. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Tsuda’s drawing style, but the story moves along at a good pace, and all the characters are pretty fleshed-out and unique.

I can find myself relating to Yukino quite a bit, especially the bit about reputation. She’s a very likable character, and I like the way she develops through the story.

Romantic, funny, light read.