Whenever I see a book with a crazy-low rating on Goodreads, I'm always intrigued. In this age of politically correctness, it's not uncommon for people to down-rate books for mentioning uncomfortable topics just because they're uncomfortable. In this case, I do understand why people would be so quick to hate on TAMPA. TAMPA is a gender-swapped LOLITA: a book about a female hebephile/pedophile who likes 13/14-year-old boys. I'm pretty liberal in what I'm willing to read and it's really hard to offend me, and even though child abuse and especially child sexual abuse are one of the hardest things for me to read about, I think TAMPA handles the topic well, and makes some good points about how we view female predators.
I just read FORBIDDEN, by Tabitha Suzuma, which is another book that pushes the envelope when it comes to socially acceptable topics. In FORBIDDEN's case, it was incest. Two siblings, Maya and Lochan, find themselves lusting after one another when their screwed up family dynamic forces them to play house and they realize that they don't feel like brother and sister so much as husband and wife. The attraction happens on both sides, but Maya is the instigator, the one who keeps things going and always takes things too far. At the end, Lochan is forced to take the fall for their relationship and it utterly destroys him, but he knows that everyone is always quick to blame the man in these instances and it's the best way to ensure that one of them ends up free.
I'm not sure how I was supposed to read FORBIDDEN but I definitely saw Maya as the bad guy. She totally manipulated Lochan into going farther than he wanted to go, and when he told her at one point 'no,' and asked her to stop, she didn't. She emotionally manipulated him and said all sorts of horrible things to him in order to get him to continue treating her how she wanted, and I thought that was super creepy. The author even mentioned in the book how female abusers are never really taken seriously in part because they're so rare, but also because of how society views women. I feel like the same is true with TAMPA, which is a story of a female middle school teacher named Celeste Price, who takes up the job because it puts her in close proximity with the boys she wants to have sex with.
Celeste is unquestionably a sociopath: she sees nothing about using and manipulating people to get what she wants. She's very attractive and knows it. She has married a beard, a police officer of all things who is as good-looking as she is, and manipulates him, as well. The way she grooms the boys in her classroom and abuses her power to pursue a relationship with an unfortunate named Jack was sickening. Celeste is obviously not a good character, a likeable one, or one you want to root for. Reading about her antics is like watching a train crash. That said, I did appreciate reading about a female character who is so completely opposite from your typical female protagonist. She's completely in charge of her sexuality, she's evil, she's sadistic, she's sociopathic, she's a pedophile.
Female abusers do exist, and part of the irony of sexism is that if women are portrayed as weak and helpless, then women like Celeste slide under the radar. Men can be abused and raped, and not just by other men but also by women as well. And even though child sexual abuse does happen significantly more at the hands of men rather than women, there are cases when women do commit these acts of abuse and they should be taken seriously. I couldn't help but think of that Southpark episode, Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy, while reading this, which really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the double standard of how underage sex is viewed with older man/younger woman vs. older woman/younger man. One is clear-cut abuse, whereas the other is sometimes seen as "initiation."
I did not enjoy reading TAMPA but I still thought it was a good book that tackles a lot of unsavory topics in a thoughtful way. If you can wrap your mind around the topic of child sexual abuse without feeling overwhelmingly disgusted or triggered (and again, I get it if you do), it's a worthwhile read.
3.5 out of 5 stars