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The Last Taboo    by Bali Rai order for
Last Taboo
by Bali Rai
Order:  USA  Can
Corgi, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Last Taboo is a story set in modern mixed race England (and filled with Brit slang) of clashes between school gangs, escalating racial tension, race riots, and forbidden romance. In the context of increasing neighborhood violence, Simran - whose family background is Asian but who considers herself British - falls for black Tyrone, despite anxiety over her conservative extended family's reactions - though her parents are liberal (having married for love), her wealthy Punjabi uncles and cousins are their opposite.

Though she has reservations at first, understanding that there might be trouble (but naive about its real potential), Simram gradually gives in to Tyrone's constant courting, in person and electronically. She tests the waters on their relationship with friends and younger family members, getting mixed reactions. These generally firm up her resolve to give in to her strong attraction to Tyrone, despite knowing deep down that she's 'playing with fire'. The author unfolds events from the points of view of characters who end up on different sides of the growing conflict - Simram, her brother David, their cousins Suky and Satnam, David's best friend Dean (who happens to be Tyrone's cousin), Tyrone, and others. He also takes us back in time to contrast current events with what happened in the 70s, when blacks intervened to help Asians attacked by skinheads, and were arrested for their trouble.

In The Last Taboo, Bali Rai portrays a natural and engaging teen romance, progressing in a context of racial distrust and hatred. Simram is called foul names and her uncles put pressure on her father, while a volcano of violence bubbles below the surface of events. Readers know that tragedy looms, but can't guess what form it will take. Close to the end, an old man recounts what he learned in the 70s - that 'People are good or they are bad. Their colour isn't the important thing. It's what's in their hearts.' Though its prevalent use of British slang might present a challenge to North American audiences, The Last Taboo is an excellent, searing read, which I recommend to you.

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