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Literature / Forbidden

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For my part, the choice has already been made. Having the children taken into care is something I have been trying to guard against since the age of twelve. No sacrifice is too great to keep my family together, yet the long path ahead looks so rocky and steep that I regularly wake up at night fearing I will fall. Only the thought of Maya at my side makes the ascent seem possible at all.
Lochan Whitely

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma is a deconstruction and reconstruction of Brother–Sister Incest. Social anxiety and Promotion to Parent are also big topics.

The story of the Whitelys: a Big, Screwed-Up Family, with a Disappeared Dad, a neglectful, alcoholic mum, and five children. With their parents almost completely out of the picture, the eldest two children—Lochan (17) and Maya (16)—have been Promoted to Parents for their three younger siblings:

  • Kit (13, "going through his evil phase")
  • Tiffin (8, "only interested in his DS and his soccer friends")
  • Willa (5, "sweet but still just a baby")

Working together to take care of the family and keep social workers away, they've become Living Emotional Crutches for each other, and grown close… very close…

Told through sympathetic, Switching P.O.V..

The book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: The kids' mother is shockingly neglectful, as well as financially abusive—not to mention emotionally and verbally abusive towards Lochan.
  • Affectionate Nickname: The family calls Lochan "Loch" and "Lochie" sometimes. It's not ok when a policeman calls him that.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Kit elicits this response from Maya and Lochan in general. The time he comes home at 3 am is a particularly noteworthy example.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Follows Lochan's jealousy-driven reaction to Maya's date.
    Maya: [yelling and crying] He didn't kiss me! He tried to, okay, but I didn't let him! D'you know why? D'you want to know why? D'you really, really want to know why? This is why… [kisses his cheek] This is why… [kisses the corner of his lips] This is why… [kisses his mouth]
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Lochan and Maya love their siblings dearly, but admit that they can be quite annoying as well, Kit more than Tiffin and Willa.
  • Beautiful Dreamer:
    • The morning after the fight with Kit, Maya wakes up before Lochan and watches him for a minute, not wanting to wake him.
    • The day Maya falls at school, at home later, Lochan watches her sleep—watching over her because she's hurt.
  • Big Brother Bully: Lochan really tries not to be this, but the constant pressure and stress he's under occasionally causes him to lash out at his siblings. In particular, he gets into a quite vicious fight with Kit after the latter comes home at 3 am and doesn't seem at all bothered that Lochan was searching the streets for him. Lochan is terrified of his own outburst, and struggles to forgive himself for it. He also accidentally dislocates Willa's shoulder when he pulls her down from standing on the kitchen counter, and has to be reassured by Maya that this was a total accident that could have happened to anybody.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Discussed, in that this is what Kit would much prefer Lochan to be, and the fact that he's been forced to act as a parental authority makes their relationship a lot worse. After their fight, Kit himself is grudgingly at a loss for words when Maya directly asks him whether he thinks Lochan had a choice about taking on the new role, and whether he thinks Lochan wouldn't have wanted to remain his friend instead of his father figure.
  • Big Man on Campus: Maya initially thinks Nico DiMarco is hot, but full of himself. When they got on a date she realizes he's actually a much nicer guy than she thought, and that being popular doesn't automatically make him an asshole.
    Maya: Yeah, yeah. So he’s hot. But he knows it. I might fancy him just like everyone else, but I never said I wanted to go out with the guy.
    Francie: [shakes her head in disbelief] D’you know how many girls would kill for a date with Nico?
  • Book Ends: Flies trapped inside, fighting for air.
  • Break-Up Bonfire: Their mother had one after their father left.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Due to the taboo of incest, the pressure of secrecy, the angst of Can't Have Sex, Ever, and a few emotionally insensitive comments, Lochan and Maya break up for a chapter.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: One of the big topics of the book, with a major point throughout being their inability to find a reason as to why a fully consensual relationship between equals should be considered wrong, as long as they don't have any inbred children together. Lochan's research also reveals that there's very little material on consensual incest, with most cases involving abuse.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Lochan and Maya acknowledge they've always viewed each other as equals, and have become partners supporting each other for pretty much their whole lives. By the time of the book they're practically co-parents as well.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: They're both brooding to a degree, but Lochan has the extra burden of social anxiety, and Maya helps ease that.
  • Byronic Hero: Lochan. Let's see: Male, beautiful, dark-haired, intelligent, academic, emotional, melancholy, pessimistic, passionate…
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': After not having sex for a long time because they are terrified of being caught, they eventually decide that they're being paranoid, and that no one is actually going around looking in windows to catch siblings having sex. So they go ahead and have sex, and disaster rains down—instantly.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Or at least, Can't Have Sex for the Foreseeable Future. Incest is illegal, and having sex is the technical definition of incest. By restraining from that, that are able to convince themselves what they're doing is ok; that they're not being selfish or endangering their younger siblings.
    So I keep repeating to myself, As long as we don't go all the way, it will be all right. As long as we don't actually have sex, we're not technically having an incestuous relationship. As long as we don't cross that final line, our family will be safe, the kids won't be taken away, Maya and I won't be forced apart. All we have to do is be patient, enjoy what we have, until perhaps one day, when the others are grown up, we can move away and forge new identities and love each other freely.
  • Character Development:
    • Kit seems to be getting over his horrible stage in the last part of the book and treats the rest of the family much better, largely because Lochan and Maya have succeeded in establishing a stable and consistent routine with their mum basically out of the picture.
    • Meanwhile, Lochan starts working through his anxiety and shyness, including reading his work aloud to the class and making a proper friend.
  • Clueless Chick-Magnet: Lochan. Not totally clueless, as Maya has alerted him to this, but he certainly does nothing to encourage it.
    Despite the fact that he is painfully shy, most of the girls in my year fancy him
  • Cool Teacher: Downplayed, but Miss Azley. As a young teacher who still has the energy to want to make a difference, she stands out in a largely apathetic school.
  • Dance of Romance: First homework, which leads to procrastinating/taking-a-break, which leads to salsa dancing. Then the next song the radio plays is a slow, crooning one. Dance of Romance ensues.
  • Disappeared Dad: Their father moved to Australia with his new wife five years ago.
  • Don't Split Us Up: Being taken into foster care and split up is the Whitelys' greatest fear.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Discussed in depth.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lochan commits suicide while under arrest to prevent Maya from going to jail. Maya seriously considers it after his death but ultimately decides not to.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Whitelys, complete with alcoholism and incest to boot. Pretty much all of it stems from their father's absence and their mother's selfishness and stupidity. The relationship between the other siblings is strong and supportive, with even Kit coming round towards the end, once their mother has completely moved away and he is more able accept Lochan as a Parental Substitute.
  • Epigraph
    You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.
  • False Rape Accusation: When everything is falling apart, Lochan instructs Maya to say that he raped her—absolving her of any guilt, and thus protecting her, with the assurance that as long as she doesn't actually press charges he'll be released (which he knows is untrue because she is underage and their mother will press charges). Her realising this and refusing to send him to prison prompts Lochan to remove her motivation to protect him by killing himself.
  • Financial Abuse: The mother gives her kids money for bills and food very grudgingly.
  • First Kiss: For both Lochan and Maya, after the Anguished Declaration of Love.
  • Forbidden Love: Incest is still illegal in America and many other places in the world, so naturally this applies.
  • Foreshadowing: There are a couple hints scattered throughout the story that Kit secretly knows Lochan and Maya are in love, before it's finally revealed near the end of the story. After Maya returns home from her date with Nico, she and Lochan have an incredibly loud argument with each other, right before they realize they're in love and start making out. Not only is Kit noted to have arrived home shortly before their argument, but his creaking ladder indicates he was awake the whole time, meaning he probably overheard them, and may have even seen them kissing. Later on, after Lochan and Maya bring Willa home from the hospital, Maya goes to Kit's bedroom to chat with him. When she warns Kit that they need to be careful what they say to avoid social services finding out about their situation, he responds, "Maya, I get it. I won't tell anybody about Willa's arm—or anything else that could get us into trouble," alluding to his knowledge of his older siblings' relationship.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: While the Raging Stiffie first alerted them both to their sexual feelings for each other, it's Maya's date with another boy that forces them both to properly confront and deal with their feelings.
  • Heroic BSoD: Maya, after Lochan's death. To the point where she contemplates suicide.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Maya promises to at least try to do this. Whether she'll ever truly recover from Lochan's death and move on is ambiguous.
    Maya: Okay, I'll try. That's all I can promise you right now, Lochie, but I'll try.
  • Hope Spot: In the last part of the book, the family are happier and more settled than they've ever been, Kit's finally behaving, Lochan's anxiety is improving, and Lochan and Maya seem to have found peace together. Then their mother discovers their relationship and everything falls apart.
  • Hidden Depths: Kit. He is quite mean and vicious throughout most of the story, but he ultimately shows himself to be a caring person deep down.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Maya's friend Francie. As a plot device, she is always happy to bring up the topic of dating.
  • It's All About Me: Their mother, to an astonishing degree. She all but abandons the family to live with her boyfriend and spends her wages on trifles for herself while leaving Lochan and Maya to work out how to put food on the table. One striking example of her thoughtless selfishness comes after she was so hungover she didn't pick up the kids and didn't remember asking somebody else to, leaving Lochan and Maya to frantically talk to teachers and contemplate calling the police when the kids aren't at school, and when Lochan furiously brings it up she replies, "But aren't you happy that I'm feeling better?" in apparently genuine confusion.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Lochan and Maya always put the other one first, and indeed their the second part of the Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario is delayed by each not wanting the other to feel pressured into resuming the relationship.
  • Jail Bait Wait: Played with. Lochan and Maya are 13 months apart in age. They get caught when Lochan has just turned 18 and is technically an adult, and Maya is 16, just shy of 17, and technically a child (though still over the age of consent) and this worsens the charges against Lochan when he gets arrested. Downplayed however, since incest is illegal anyway regardless of age.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • As a result of trying to deal with their stress, confusion, and pain, both Maya and Lochan have moments of spite where they act pointlessly cruel to each other or the kids. They always regret it immediately, but it sometimes takes a while to reconcile.
    • Their mother frequently does this when she's had a few drinks, with Lochan being the primary target. She has told him so many times that the only reason she married his father was because she accidentally got pregnant with him, that Lochan barely registers it anymore.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Maya and Lochan for each other.
    Only with Maya can I really be myself. We share the burden together and she is always on my side, by my side. I don't want to need her, to depend on her, but I do, I really do.
  • Love Epiphany: It's not until Maya goes on a date that either Maya or Lochan really understand that they like each other. On Lochan's side it's a Green-Eyed Epiphany. For Maya, she abruptly realizes that a guy she thought she liked isn't who she wants to be with. An Anguished Declaration of Love follows, quite dramatically.
  • Mama Bear: However neglectful and unfit she may be, their mother still reacts violently to protect Maya from (apparently) being raped by Lochan. Since she never bothers to get Maya's story and doesn't even attend Lochan's funeral, these vestiges of maternal feelings do not redeem her in any way, and actually inflict more devastating harm to her family than her neglect ever did.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: A moment wrapped in a long white sheet, symbolizing a wedding gown.
    “She reaches out for the crumpled sheet at the end of her bed and wraps it round beneath her arms. The white material swirls around her feet, making me smile. I pull on my underwear and join her by the window, kissing her cheek. “I do.”
    She looks at me questioningly and then down at the sheet before breaking into giggles.
    “In sickness and in health?” she asks. “Till death do us part?”
    I shake my head. “Way beyond that,” I say. “Forever.”
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Kit.
    Personally, I have always suspected it is something far simpler: Kit doesn't like the little ones getting all the attention for being small and cute, and Lochan and me telling everyone what to do, while he's stuck in no-man's-land, the archetypal middle child with no partner in crime.
  • Mocking Sing-Song:
    I told him that I was talking to a boy from school. I thought this would be the end of it, but I'd forgotten Tiffin is eight. "Maya's got a boyfriend, a boyfriend, a boyfriend!" he sang all the way home.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Both Lochan and Maya have this reaction at various stages when they think about the harm they could do to their family and each other. Kit has a major one after he, in a moment of misdirected anger, tells their mother about the relationship and she calls the police.
  • Perp Walk: Kit comes home just in time to see Lochan taken away. Neighbours come out to watch too.
  • Parental Neglect: By the end of the book, their mother has all but left the family to live with her boyfriend including not even attending Lochan's funeral.
  • Platonic Co-Parenting: Subverted. Lochan and Maya seem like they're doing this at first, raising their siblings in lieu of their useless parents, but the "platonic" part eventually goes out the window.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Lochan and Maya to each other. Lochan when Maya goes on a date with Nico DiMarco and he imagines she'll stop paying attention to the family because she can do better. Maya, when she thinks about Lochan going away to university and leaving her to manage the kids by herself. Neither of them voice it initially, because they want the other to be happy.
  • Promotion to Parent: Lochan and Maya are the de facto father and mother of the household. The two of them raising their siblings and dealing with their neglectful mother is given just as much focus than their romance, especially at the beginning. with Willa at one point directly asking whether they are actually her real parents, since they are always there and their blood mother isn't. Kit's behaviour is largely because he struggles to deal with his older brother having to take on the role of authoritative parent, rather than the Big Brother Mentor his friends seem to have.
  • Protectorates: Kit, Tiffin, and Willa to Lochan and Maya. As their pseudo-children, they're the core thing on their lives they make decisions around.
  • Raging Stiffie: During the Dance of Romance, and what makes Lochan realise that his love for Maya is more than familial.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Lochan claims he raped Maya and commits suicide to stop her from getting tried for incest and prevent the family from being taken into Care, leaving Maya grief-stricken. However, she decides to keep on living for him, and keep the family together so his sacrifice isn't in vain.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Warm, outgoing Maya and shy, geeky Lochan.
  • Secret Relationship: Lochan and Maya keep their relationship secret for… obvious reasons.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: It's revealed Kit picked up on Lochan and Maya's relationship a while back, but kept quiet.
  • Shrinking Violet: Lochan is a rare male example.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Early in the book, Maya asks Lochan—jokingly—if he's gay, because he's never kissed a girl. He says no, he's not. Later they both realized he's in love with her. The singularity of his sexuality becomes most visible when he's looking for someone else to transfer his affections too and can't.
    No, that’s ridiculous. My problem is that I need someone to focus my attention on, some object of desire, some girl to fantasize about. I look around the class but there is no one. Attractive girls—yes. A girl that I care about—no. She can’t just be a face, a body; there has to be more than that, some kind of connection. And I can’t connect, don’t want to connect, with anyone.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted. Lochan and Maya are all too aware of the risk social services could investigate their situation, especially as a family like the Whitleys are already on the radar. But it's not a case of Department of Child Disservices either—if social services did them out of their home, it would be for good reason. They're living in state housing, with Disappeared Dad and neglectful mother. Lochan and Maya are only barely holding things together. Many of the pair's actions—raising the other three, covering up their mother's neglectfulness, resisting their feelings and putting on a brave face at school—are because they desperately don't want to social services to step in and put the younger ones into foster care. At the end, Maya thinks about this, and whether she's trying to prevent that to protect her siblings, or because she doesn't want to lose them out of selfishness.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: They were doomed from the beginning. The Amazon blurb even said so.
  • Switching P.O.V.: It alternates between Lochan and Maya's first-person POV.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Lochan's last request to Maya.
  • Talking in Bed: Maya and Lochan have a long talk in bed about Lochan's progress talking in class, how their screwed up family may have contributed to them falling in love, All Abusers Are Male, Double Standard Rape: Female on Male, and the illegality of incest.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Kit, who's in his sister's words, "your standard screwed-up teenager." But it's also a deconstruction, as his screwed up family situation—Disappeared Dad, neglectful mother and two older siblings trying to parent while not even adults themselves—more than explain why he behaves so badly. He improves in the last third of the book.
  • Teen Genius: Lochan is intelligent enough to basically be a shoo-in for competitive universities like Oxford and Cambridge, despite going to a pretty rough state school and lacking time to study because he's raising three younger siblings.
  • Their First Time: Lochan and Maya lose their virginity to each other near the end of the book, and it all goes to hell immediately afterwards.
  • Tragic Keepsake: By the end of the story, the silver bracelet Lochan gave Maya for Christmas, engraved: "Maya, love you forever. Lochan x."
  • Troll: Kit at his worst.
    Kit, bored, is in one of his most dangerous moods, trying to wind everyone up so that he can sit in the eye of the storm and laugh at the chaos he has created all around him.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Played with with Lochan. As is traditional for the trope he's antisocial, with a difficult home life, and beautiful, with plenty of girls who like him. But he's also got crippling social anxiety, and is a far cry from a classic Troubled, but Cute bad boy or rebel.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Reconstruction. There's no doubt Lochan and Maya's behavior—matter-of-factly putting aside their own needs to raise their siblings and giving up on their own mother—is worrying for a pair of 16/17-year-olds. However it's generally portrayed in a positive light and the best thing they can do in their situation. They do a pretty good job of raising the kids and holding the family together until their mother discovers their relationship.
  • T-Word Euphemism: Innocent little Willa talks about her teenage brother's swearing this way.
    Willa: Lochie, Kit said the F word!
    Kit: Fuck-a-doodle-do.
  • The Un-Favourite:
    • At the very least, Kit sees himself as this, and might actually be it concerning Lochan and Maya (though he brings most of it on himself).
    • Lochan is certainly this for his mother.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Kit. Oh Kit. Without thinking and in anger, he tells their mother about Lochan and Maya's relationship. Arrest, suicide, and the near destruction of their family ensue.
    Kit: I'm sorry! Lochie, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't think about what would happen—I never thought she'd call the police!
  • UST: Between Lochan and Maya prior to their Relationship Upgrade.
  • Villainous Incest: Discussed and defied. Lochan and Maya are the heroes and have a completely consensual, loving and supportive relationship, one that would be far stronger and healthier than most people of their age could hope for if they weren't siblings. Both of them struggle to deny or redirect their feelings, but are unable to actually think of a reason why a relationship like theirs is wrong, as it is a relationship between equals and entirely free from any sort of abuse.
  • Wham Line: The last line of chapter 24.
    Then, from the doorway, comes a shattering scream.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Lochan, Maya, and little Willa.
    She is only five, yet already she has learned that there is no point in asking her mother for a bedtime story, that inviting friends over is something only other children can do, that new toys are a rare luxury, that at home Kit and Tiffin are the only ones who get their own way. At the age of five she has already come to terms with one of life's harshest lessons: that the world isn't fair…
  • The Woobie: Maya and Lochan, though Stoic Woobies at that. As narrators, they are very open to the audience about their woobiehood. However in-universe, they hide their situation very well, lest a social worker notice.