Faber & Faber
Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin
Celeste is 26 and about to start her first official teaching job – 8th grade English in suburban Tampa, Florida. She’s married to policeman Ford, whose family is very wealthy, helping boost their income. Celeste drives a red Corvette and spends hours each week having facials and treatments to preserve her stunningly beautiful good looks. Ford likes anything that Celeste does that boosts her attractiveness, he feels it helps raise his profile, makes the boys he works with envious. But that isn’t the main reason why Celeste devotes so much time to her appearance.
Celeste has a sexual obsession – 14 year old boys. Ever since her first time, at 14 with another 14 year old, she has been drawn to youth. As she grew older, the objects of her affection stayed the same age. She’s positively humming at the thought of having so much fresh meat available to her. Somewhere out there, in one of her classes, is the perfect boy. Almost immediately, her choice is made. Jack Patrick is the son of a single father, he’s modest, not aggressive and ripe to keep the secret. Celeste begins her seduction and Jack is powerless to resist her. They have sex in her car, in Jack’s house while his father is at work, in her classroom, in a cheap motel. Celeste gives him a pre-paid phone that he can use to contact her whenever he is free but above all other things, he must be discreet.
But the danger of exposure lurks everywhere. Jake’s father Buck surprises them at his home one day and begins to fall for Celeste himself and spending time with him is a sacrifice that she must make in order to be around Jake, her real interest. Celeste takes risk after risk to get what she wants, willing to do anything in order to satisfy her craving.
I have to admit, I’ve always found teacher-student sexual relationships interesting to read about. I’ve read many books that tackle this topic and there are plenty of real-life scenarios out there as well. In many cases, the teacher falls in love with a person that just happens to be too young. Society places rules regarding minors in place for a reason and teachers are in an acknowledged position of power. In this book, it is not a simple case of Celeste falling in love with a teenager on the cusp of manhood. She is just 26, young for a teacher but still light years above those she is teaching. In this story, Celeste has an unsatiable sexual hunger for the innocence of youth, eighth graders being her preference. And there’s no denying that she’s in a position of great power over them.
Tampa is no holds barred – there are no fade to black scenes here. Celeste has a ravenous sexual hunger where she must feed it to function. Her brain and body crave it. Whenever I read a novel, I often try and put myself in the protagonist’s situation – to attempt to understand them. I wouldn’t particularly recommend doing that with Celeste because it will probably make you feel ill. This isn’t just a once off sexual attraction with a person who happens to be a student this is a calculated campaign by her to stake out her classes for potential victims. She has a very specific set of requirements and reading through the way she callously examines all the boys in her class, discounting the ones whose bodies have grown and developed muscles, the ones who are loud and outgoing and whom she knows would brag, is a skin-crawling experience. Jack, poor Jack, has no hope. Celeste is beautiful and she turns the full force of her sexuality upon him. In one part of the book, she actually glorifies in what she has taught him, what she has given him, knowing that he will search for it for the rest of his life, unable to find and match it. It is something that excites her and turns her on, but my thoughts turned to Jack, what it would be like for him. He is fourteen. I remember myself at that age, the boys I was friends with. In no way were we mentally equipped for what Celeste bestows upon Jack. He thinks they’re in love, that they’ll get married when he turns 18. He has no idea that Celeste’s attraction to him has a use-by date. By the time Jack is 18, he will be years too old to even attract the interest of Celeste.
It was interesting to read a novel that chooses to use a female teacher and a male student – other books I’ve read depicting these types of relationships tend to be the other way around. As a female, older than Celeste, it’s difficult for me to even ponder an attraction to a teenager. But you don’t need to look too far to know that it does happen – and often. The internet is littered with stories of women teachers who have had affairs with male students, giving birth to their children, going to jail for it, being shunned by society. However there’s an interesting double standard when it comes to victims sometimes – male victims are often not looked at the same way, especially when the sexual aggressor is a beautiful woman, like Celeste and this book takes that view and expounds upon it in hideous detail, holding up society’s own views to itself and exploiting them. There’s a tendency to snicker, to count them as ‘lucky’, to see them as infinitely less vulnerable than their female counterparts. But I don’t think anyone can count Jack as lucky in this novel. The way in which Celeste takes apart his mind is absolute.
Disturbing, uncomfortable but raw and powerful, this novel brings to mind Lolita in Celeste’s single minded pursuit of her minor. It puts you in her mind, that of a predator and forces you to examine the lowest possible acts and through that, the way in which these acts are seen by society. It’s a bold book, one that will divide. But it’s definitely one that should be read.
Book #182 of 2013
Curious? Want to know more? Think the psychology of this one is something you might be interested in? Thanks to the fabulous Australian publisher of Tampa, Allen & Unwin, I have five copies to give away! Because this is a publisher sponsored giveaway, you must live in Australia to be eligible. Simply fill out the form to enter.
*Winners will be drawn on the 24th July and notified by email. Failure to respond in 48 hours will mean I’ll draw a replacement.