Posts Tagged ‘Tabitha Suzuma’

After reading Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’, and then her ‘A Note of Madness’ and A Voice in the Distance’, I have been waiting for her next book ‘Hurt’ to be released. I was very excited when it was released a couple of weeks back. I got it last week and finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

Hurt By Tabitha Suzuma

‘Hurt’ starts with a very bleak scene. Mathéo gets up one day morning and realizes that he is still fully dressed. He also realizes that he has got cuts and bruises all over his body and something has happened in his room – it is totally trashed and everything there is broken and smashed. He can’t remember what happened the previous night. Or something in his mind suppresses that memory. He knows one thing though. Whatever happened the previous night has changed his life irrevocably and he will never been able to go back to his earlier carefree, happy life.


The story then goes back and tells us more about Mathéo. Mathéo is the British and European diving champion. He is expected to win a medal – hopefully the gold – at the next Olympics. He is young though and is still at school. He loves his girlfriend, the charming, beautiful Lola, deeply. Hugo and Isabel are Mathéo’s friends, with whom he hangs out at lunch time and whenever he has free time. Mathéo’s parents are busy professionals and don’t have time for their children from a day-to-day perspective, though they spend time with them whenever it is required. Mathéo has a brother Loïc, who is very young, very shy and who loves Mathéo very much. Lola’s father Jerry is a wonderful dad who has brought up Lola since she was a baby, after her mother passed away. Jerry has been both a father and a mother to Lola and he is also her best friend. This is the background to the events of the story. The final exams at school get over and the friends part for a few days. Mathéo goes to participate in the National Diving Championships at Brighton. And something happens there, which he can’t remember and which we don’t know about, which affects his life irrevocably. When he comes back he is a changed man and he finds it difficult to even talk to his friends and loved ones.


What happens to Mathéo? Does he remember what happened that night? Why does his mind suppress that memory – was what happened so shocking and terrible? How does he cope with his life in the aftermath? And what happens to his relationships with Lola, Hugo and Isabel? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.


‘Hurt’ is sunny and delightful, and also dark and bleak in equal measure. (What is a Suzuma book without a little bit (or lots) of dark and bleak?) The happy scenes where Mathéo and Lola spend time together sometimes with each other, sometimes with their friends Hugo and Isabel and sometimes with Jerry, Lola’s dad, are some of the happy scenes in the book. One of the sunny scenes was where the ‘Horse and Hound’ magazine is mentioned – the magazine which was made famous by Hugh Grant’s character in ‘Notting Hill’. At other times Suzuma takes us into the mind of someone who has been through a traumatic experience and keeps us there and we alongwith Mathéo plumb the depths of despair. The bleak parts of the book are gripping as we struggle to understand what Mathéo is going through. When what happened on that fateful night is revealed, halfway through the book, it is shocking.  When the secret is revealed, towards the end, it is devastating. When we are reeling with the shock of the revelations and, like the characters in the book, are trying to pick the pieces, Tabitha Suzuma delivers the sucker punch. After having read ‘Forbidden’, one expects no less from Suzuma. But it hurts all the same, the ending breaks (‘shatters’ would be the better word here) one’s heart (Suzuma describes it in the book herself – “He…feels the acute pain of something breaking inside him – something permanent, something he knows will never, ever mend.”  That feels like an iceberg cracking, doesn’t it? That is exactly what happens to the reader.)


I don’t know any YA author like Suzuma, anyone who writes like this. Most YA books, even if they are on difficult topics – death, cancer, rape – mostly end with a ray of hope. But Suzuma is different. After reading a few books by her, one more or less expects a devastating ending and braces oneself, but it still doesn’t help. I think we can call her the Thomas Hardy of YA literature. I am not complaining though. I am a sucker for tragedies. My favourite Shakespeare play is ‘Hamlet’. I love the sunny comic ones like ‘The Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Twelfth Night’, but nothing can beat ‘Hamlet’ in my book. When I read the last lines today, even if it is for the umpteenth time – “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” – it still makes me cry. Reading the last pages of ‘Hurt’ made me feel like that.


If you liked Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’ you will love ‘Hurt’. I am surprised that she hasn’t won the Carnegie Medal yet. It is long overdue.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


Dusk is taking its time to fall, stretching out each remaining minute for as long as possible, in no hurry for the day to end. And Mathéo finds himself wishing it never had to, wishing this walk could last for ever.


Everything looks so normal, Mathéo thinks, and yet everything seems somehow alien too. It is almost as if he is witnessing this kind of scene for the very first time. He feels as if he is on the other side of something all those other people cannot understand. As if he is the only one who is aware of the folly of humankind : forced enthusiasm, people rushing this way and that, trying to edge ahead of each other in their urgent need to get someplace – the where hardly seems to matter. What is imperative is the need to keep going, to keep moving, to keep constantly busy – all a desperate attempt to kid themselves that they are a part of this world, that they are somehow important, that the choices they make and the actions they take and the places they go actually mean something.


There is no chronology inside his head. Instead, it is composed of myriad images which spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water, then vanish entirely, no more substantial than a dream.


Have you read ‘Hurt’ or other books by Tabitha Suzuma? What do you think about them?

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After reading Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘A Note of Madness’ I couldn’t resist reading the sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’. I read a few pages a couple of days back and yesterday I finished the whole book. It is not often that I read a whole book in a day. Here is what I think.


‘A Voice in the Distance’ continues the story of ‘A Note of Madness’. Flynn, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manages to stay normal by medication and periodic medical checkups. Jennah and Flynn now live together and are very much in love. Flynn wins music competitions and he is a star even before he has passed out of music college. Then one day the medication stops working as well as before. Flynn gets into a manic depressive state. He tries to commit suicide. He is taken to hospital. The doctor increases the dosage of lithium. Flynn discovers that it makes his hands shiver, which means that he can’t play the piano as well as before. Then one day Flynn decides not to take the medication. It improves his piano playing. But he starts getting hyperactive as before. And then Jennah discovers what Flynn has done and she feels betrayed and all hell breaks loose. Will Flynn be able to manage his condition without taking medication? Will he be able to salvage his relationship with Jennah? Will Jennah continue to be together with Flynn inspite of the everyday difficulties and complexities that come with it? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.


‘A Voice in the Distance’ is a bit different from ‘A Note of Madness’. The first thing that is different is that it is told through the voices of Flynn and Jennah. The chapters which contain Jennah’s narration are longer than those that contain Flynn’s. Jennah gets a bigger share of the story. The second thing that is different is that while ‘A Note of Madness’ was more about depression, ‘A Voice in the Distance’ is more about how the family and friends and loved ones of a person suffering from depression cope with the situation. We see how Jennah handles the situation and how she has to make difficult choices. We also see the situation from the point of view of Flynn’s parents, his brother and sister-in-law, his friends Harry and Kate and Jennah’s mother.


The third thing in which ‘A Voice in the Distance’ is different from its predecessor is with respect to the ending. The ending is sad, even heartbreaking. But it is also satisfying. I know that is a contradiction in terms, but it is true. It is classic Suzuma. In contrast, ‘A Note of Madness’ had a happy ending.


I don’t know whether there will be a third volume in the series. I would love to know what happened to Flynn and Jennah after the events described in ‘A Voice in the Distance’. The last passage of the book continues to haunt me, and as a reader I should leave it at that, but I can’t resist the temptation to find out what happened next.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


They say depression is an incredible sadness, an unbearable mental pain. No, it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Sometimes it is nothing more than feeling tired. Tired of life. In therapy they tell you to remember that the bad spells pass. That things do get better, that medication does work, that things don’t stay the same. I can’t see how this is supposed to help. Ultimately everything ends with death. What they should say is : things might get better for a while, but eventually you will go back to being nothing, and all the pain and suffering will have been in vain. I wonder what Dr.Stefan would have to say to that. They say that depression makes you see everything in a negative light. I disagree. It makes you see things for what they are. It makes you take off the fucking rose-tinted glasses and look around and see the world as it really is – cruel, harsh and unfair. It makes you see people in their true colours – stupid, shallow and self-absorbed. All that ridiculous optimism, all that carpe diem and life’s-what-you-make-of-it. Words, just empty words in an attempt to give meaning to an existence that is both doomed and futile.


His face is like a waxwork, and I realize suddenly with startling clarity that the body and the person are two different things. Two different entities, somehow fused. The body is the one I am looking at now, attached to all these machines, the heart still struggling to pump, the lungs still struggling to breathe, valiantly fighting to stay alive. The person is another being entirely, the perpetrator of this crime, the one who ruthlessly swallowed forty tablets sometime in the middle of the night, then lay down beside his girlfriend to die. The person tried to kill itself, tried to kill its own body. I understand for the first time why attempted suicide used to be an imprisonable offence. It is, after all, attempted murder.


Have you read ‘A Voice in the Distance’? What do you think about it?

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I read Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’ last year. I liked it so much that I wanted to explore other works of hers. Whenever I discover a new writer and like one of her/his works, I try to read the first book of that writer. So I thought I will get Tabitha Suzuma’s first book, ‘A Note of Madness’. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.


‘A Note of Madness’ is about a classical music student, Flynn. Flynn discovers one day that his emotional state moves to sudden extremes. One day he feels very energetic. He goes for a midnight run. He doesn’t sleep for the next few days and tries to compose an opera. Then suddenly the bubble bursts and he doesn’t want to even get out of home. He doesn’t want to attend classes and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He feels depressed all the time. Flynn’s best friends are Harry and Jennah. Flynn loves Jennah, secretly. But he is scared that Jennah won’t love him back the same way and so doesn’t reveal his true feelings to her. Jennah loves Flynn. But she waits for him to make the first move. Flynn’s episodes of high energy and high depression continue for a while and one day, on the eve of an important recital, things become too much and he tries to jump out of the window. Flynn’s brother Rami, who is a doctor, takes him to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnoses Flynn with bipolar disorder and prescribes lithium to him. Flynn starts taking medication but discovers that the medicine deadens his mind – he doesn’t feel depressed but he doesn’t feel excited too. It looks like he is incapable of both agony and ecstasy and the medicine has eliminated both the lows and highs of life. He feels dull all the time and after attending classes he prefers sitting at home and watching TV. One day he stops taking lithium. Sometime after that Jennah tries expressing her love to Flynn, but he pushes her away without meaning too. And things get worse from there. Does Flynn get cured of his bipolar disorder or does he learn how to manage it? Does his music career get back on track? Is he able to convey his true feelings to Jennah and does she accept him? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.


‘A Note of Madness’ is a study in depression. It shows what happens when a talented young person suddenly faces the onslaught of manic depression and how his life changes irrevocably. It is one of the most realistic stories on depression that I have read. The main character in the story, Flynn, reminded me of the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘The Marriage Plot’. However, I found the portrayal of Flynn more convincing and real. After reading the story, I also discovered the difference between clinical depression and manic depression. One of my favourite passages which describes how Flynn thinks about the situation he is in, is this :


I feel as if someone close to me has died, or as if I’ve suffered some terrible loss. Yet nothing bad has happened and there is no reason for me to feel this way. A few days ago I believed I could write an opera, I was a musical genius and playing was effortless fun. I loved my friends, I loved my life. But now, just existing is pure agony and all I want is escape. Escape from this world, escape from this life, escape from myself.


Another of my favourite passages is this :


Go Rami, he silently implored him. You can’t help me, nobody can. You’ll never understand. You have no idea what it is like to be inside my body, my brain, my mind! Trying to describe my life and feelings to you is like trying to describe colours to the blind, or music to the deaf. It’s simply not possible. We may exist side by side, we may share the same blood, the same upbringing, but our minds exist in different worlds. You exist in the world of the rational, the world where every problem has a logical solution, every question has an answer. Can’t you see that none of my problems have solutions, my questions can’t be answered? Nothing in my irrational brain can be solved by your common sense, none of my pain can be shared by your structured emotions? In my world black is white, one and one never makes two and agony and ecstasy lie irrevocably intertwined. The only way to understand it is to share it and I would never wish this existence upon anybody, not even my worst enemy. You may try and sympathize, help and care with all your soul, but you will never, never understand.


There are many beautiful passages on music in the book. My favourite music passage is this:


The piece was made up of drops of icy water melting from an overhanging tree. Each simple note caused a stab of bittersweet pain as it fell against his skin like a pebble into still water, sending shivers down his spine. Flynn felt as if he could taste each note, feel it inside him, and as the late-afternoon sunlight slanted over Professor Kaiser’s dusty study, it was almost too much to bear. He came to the end of the piece and immediately wanted to play it again, to experience again the intense sensations created by nothing more than a simple arrangement of notes, longing for the piece once more like fresh juice on a hot summer’s day. Each note was more poignant than the last, more exquisite, until you didn’t feel as if another could surpass it and then one did and it was utterly overwhelming, so much so that your chest ached and your eyes stung and your whole body felt as if it would burst.


I also liked the character of Jennah in the story. I wish her character was explored in more depth and the story of her and Flynn’s love for each other was given more space. But the book is more about depression and so the love story is just a subplot in it. I was however pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this book has a sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’ which gives more importance to the character of Jennah. I can’t wait to read that.


I liked ‘A Note of Madness’ very much. It is a study of depression, of love, of fear, of brilliance. It is beautiful, brilliant, and scary. I can’t wait to read its sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’ to find out what happened to Flynn and Jennah.


Have you read ‘A Note of Madness’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Forbidden’ by Tabitha Suzuma through the review of fellow blogger Kelly from Kelly Vision. (Thanks Kelly J) The premise behind the story pulled me in and I couldn’t resist the book. I got the book last week and though I was busy during the beginning of the week, I got into the book towards the end of the week and finished it in a couple of days. This is what I think.



What I think


Lochan and Maya are in their late teens and are the eldest children in their family. They have two brothers and a sister. Their parents are divorced. Their dad has gone to live in Australia with his new wife. Their mom is an alcoholic, is a waitress in a restaurant and is seeing the owner of the restaurant. She doesn’t have time for her children and is not at home most of time, after work. This puts a lot of pressure on Lochan and Maya, as, though they are children, they have to act like adults and take care of their younger siblings and also cover up for their mother. As otherwise, social services might step in and that would be the end of them as a family unit. While doing this, the unexpected happens. Lochan and Maya fall in love with each other. They know it is incestuous and forbidden, and they try to ignore it and try to find other partners, but it doesn’t work. Then they learn to live with their feelings for each other, always worried about what will happen to them and their family if their secret comes out. The story lurches from crisis to crisis with tender moments in between. One worries about the fates of Lochan and Maya and wants them to be happy in the end. But one fears that things may not go that way. And that turns out to be true. The ending is tragic and heartbreaking. It made me cry. In the final few pages, I could feel the author pause, while she thought what to do – whether she should deal a double blow by inflicting another tragedy on the reader or whether she should take the opposite route and have a life-affirming ending. By that time I knew that things were not going to be happy, either way. A double blow was going to make me cry more, though it probably wouldn’t feel as hard as the first one. A life-affirming ending would be something which would continue the status quo of the story in a more difficult situation. I felt the author move her pen (or her hands over the keyboard) after the pause and choose the second one. It was disappointing in a way – because what it meant was that the nice characters in the story whom we cared for and rooted for from the beginning were going to continue to suffer and struggle in silence, while the not-so-nice characters were going to continue to be irresponsible and have fun. It felt so unfair. But I wouldn’t blame the author for that. When the choice is between the devil and the deep sea or a rock and a hard place, it is difficult to pick one.


I read a little bit about Tabitha Suzuma, after I read the book. I was surprised that such a talented author like her, who didn’t shy away from controversial topics, was not so well-known before. I liked the things I read about her. I liked the fact that she was British – the YA landscape has so few British writers (except for the YA fantasy landscape which has more than a few) that it felt like a whiff of fresh air. It was also interesting to know that Suzuma also has a Japanese background as her father was Japanese. Which is also unique, I think, because there are no Japanese origin YA writers that I know of. I also read that Suzuma has four siblings and she is the eldest and her family was beset with problems when she was growing up and all the children went through a depressive phase during their childhood. Her experience comes out in the book as parts of it look like they might have been based on actual experience – they look so genuine and real. Lochan, though he plays the role of a parent at home, is painfully shy at school and the way Suzuma depicts it is sensitive and realistic. I could identify with some of that, as I too was a painfully shy guy at school.


This is the second heartbreaking love story that I have read in the last few months. I don’t know what it is between me and heartbreakers, but we seem to be having a love affair.


‘Forbidden’ is an unconventional love story. It explores the limits of what is possible and what is not, in human relationships, and asks questions on why we believe what we believe and how social rules have evolved and what happens when we try breaking them or crossing a line in the sand. ‘Forbidden’ is also the story of a family which tries to stay together through good times and bad and the compromises it has to make and the battles it has to fight to have the simple life, the pleasures and the comforts that many of us take for granted.


If you like a good love story, are not worried about taboo topics, and don’t mind a heartbreaking ending, you will love this book. As for myself, I want to explore more of Suzuma’s books.


Before ending, I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.


I wonder what it would be like to be shut up in this airless glass box, slowly baked for two long months by the relentless sun, able to see the outdoors – the wind shaking the green trees right there in front of you – hurling yourself again and again at the invisible wall that seals you off from everything that is real and alive and necessary, until eventually you succumb: scorched, exhausted, overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. At what point does a fly give up trying to escape through a closed window – do its survival instincts keep it going until it is physically capable of no more, or does it eventually learn after one crash too many that there is no way out? At what point do you decide that enough is enough?


Have you read ‘Forbidden’? What do you think about it?

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