Brief Background: Lochan and Maya are two of five siblings growing up in a highly dysfunctional household. With a father who abandoned them for a new life across the globe and an alcoholic mother, the two eldest siblings have found themselves in a unique and undesirable position of trying to raise their two younger brothers and sister. Couple this stress with Lochan's social anxiety and difficulties in adapting to change and you have a recipe for drama. When Lochan and Maya develop feelings for each other, it's often hard for the reader to discern whether this was an authentic tale of brother and sister affection-turn-attraction, or simply the product of Lochan's loneliness and the tumultuous environment they find themselves in.
What I Liked:
1. Writing style. Poetic and lovely is how I would (inadequately) describe Suzuma's style. It was beautiful to read, and made the conundrum of incestuous love a more pressing question rather than immediately making the reader decide they didn't agree with the premise. I think the authenticity of Lochan and Maya's feelings was well portrayed by the writing style - it conveyed the sense of fragility, confusion and ultimately tear-jerking pain surrounding their relationship.
2. Character development. Surprisingly, it was the ancillary characters who I thought were the most adequately developed. Kit, for example, was a highly unlikable figure throughout most of the novel, but the development clearly showed him as a scarred and emotionally unstable character who was deeply affected by his environment. The depiction of Lochan's struggles with social anxiety made his retreat into his family life more realistic, and I think the problems he had facing public speaking and interaction with his peers were well portrayed.
3. Relationship development. Neither of the characters jumped straight into this and although there was definitely a sense of urgency in their love affair, it was certainly developed slow enough to portray the inner turmoil present. The prose also clearly raised the larger questions of whether Maya and Lochan were organically attracted to each other, or whether it was a result of Lochan's virtual social exclusion and Maya's brokenness. This was ultimately left for the reader to decide.
4. Moral questioning. I love that this book didn't put the ick factor on incest as a straight up. The characters were flawed, the relationship fragile, but ultimately, it never set out to completely deride incestuous/brother-sister relationships. For me, it raised the larger questions of: Can we really decide who is allowed to love who in today's society? Do we have a right to outright ban incestuous relationships which are not based on a power imbalance? Are the risks associated with childbirth due to incest enough for society to condemn these relationships? I mean, what about relationships where both parents have hereditary disorders which will be ultimately passed onto their children - why do we allow them to love? What about homosexual relationships which can ultimately not have biological children? It's all quite fascinating, in my opinion.
What I didn't like:
1. Convenience of ending. I feel like (although it was tear-jerking), Suzuma took a slightly easy road out here. Instead of forcing the characters to deal with their issues and society's condemnation of their relationship, the ending simply dealt with the characters in order to allow one to escape virtually unscathed (in a progressive sense, obviously there would have been clear emotional issues attached to that but we don't get to see much of the future here).
2. Emotional maturity. Although Maya and Lochan are in a unique position, I feel like occasionally their inner monologues were slightly too mature for their age. Keeping in mind Maya is 16 and Lochan is 17, I felt at times I was reading through the eyes of emotionally mature adults, particularly when the two were at home. Their self-awareness was rather too rational at times to seem as if it was coming from two teenagers (albeit older teenagers with a lot more responsibility).
Overall, I think this book is thought provoking and emotionally satisfying. It delivers on controversial romance and scandal, but sometimes fails to appreciate the position of teenagers in society. Ultimately, depending on your views, the ending may be a bit lacklustre, but it's definitely worth the read.