Kimberley Griffiths Little's newest novel, Forbidden, is an unusual, evocative historical YA novel. Set in ancient Mesopotamia, the story follows 16-year-old Jayden as her family attempts to cross the desert to their winter oasis after a family tragedy. Still reeling from her loss and anxious about the dangers of the crossing (particularly as they've been separated from the rest of their tribe), Jayden meets an unusual stranger who needs her family's help. Of course, Jayden is intrigued by the newcomer.
There's just one problem. Jayden is already betrothed. To Horeb, set to become their tribe's leader after his father's death. But Jayden doesn't like or trust Horeb, who has become increasingly shifty and cruel. Adding to this complication is her sister's growing fascination with the goddess temple to Ashtoreth, which goes against everything Jayden's mother and grandmother have taught them. As the novel progresses, Jayden has to figure out what truths are most important to her--and what she will have to sacrifice to stay true to herself.
For me, the setting (cultural and physical) of the novel was one of my favorite parts. I loved The Red Tent back when it came out, and I enjoyed revisiting a world where the women of a tribe had such a lovely, close-knit bond. Looking at some of the history behind belly dancing was also fascinating to me. Little does a nice job evoking the setting--at once harsh and beautiful. I liked, too, that Jayden's issues with her sister were realistic and complicated, how Jayden both loves her sister but struggles to understand her choices. There were a few places in the last half of the novel where the plot swirled quite quickly, and sometimes I struggled to keep pace with the twists, but I'm not sure that is a bad thing! I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how Jayden's story resolves in the rest of the series.