ARC supplied by Netgalley.
Mostly I’m a paranormal/fantasy/romance reader but I like to stretch my mind with something different sometimes – something thought provoking. Well Tampa certainly does that. It makes us look at our perceptions of acceptable behaviours and think how? Why? What should we do? Celeste is a high school teacher, married to Ford, a policeman though there doesn’t seem to be any passion there. I get the impression its his money that she was attracted to and her appearance that hooked him. She’s described by her father in law as a “trophy wife” and she’s very, very keen to keep her appearance youthful, spending a fortune on high end cosmetics for that purpose. She a very clever manipulator as we can see from the text, its told completely from her POV which allows us access to her thought processes. So far she just sounds like an attractive but shallow teacher doesn’t she? But she hides a huge secret – she’s sexually attracted to schoolboys, those around fourteen, before they develop any sign of maturity, and at the start of each school year she picks out carefully which one she’s going to target. She takes into account their backgrounds solely to ensure they are unlikely to report her ,or be caught out by family watching their behaviour. We see just what thoughts she has and how she goes about the process of selection. It’s like being inside her head listening to her thinking what she needs to do. She’s amazingly single minded, to the point where seduction of her chosen victim – and I use that phrase deliberately – becomes an all consuming obsession. Clearly she’s got psychological problems, and yet like so many paedophiles she’s very clever at manipulating people and circumstances to her best advantage.
Poor Jack is her target at the start of the novel and slowly she lures him in. They quickly become sexually active, and she’s has a stroke of luck when he discloses he lives with his father, and he’s at work often after school so they have the house to themselves. Of course they have a time when they’re almost caught ,and Celeste begins a very strange time where she convinces Jack father that she’s his girlfriend, and that allows her to spend even more time there. Jack is convinced they’re in love and will marry when he’s eighteen. I feel so so sorry for him. Of course things go wrong, Jack moves away and Celeste picks up a new victim. Jack is able to return periodically so she’s using both boys without the other knowing. Its a real study in how carefully child groomers work to seduce and convince kids they are wanted and loved, and that everything is done consensually when of course in reality they don’t have the full story, or the maturity to see they are just being used.
Sadly its a sharp look at life when all falls apart and Celeste is caught. Everyone is shocked at she’s such a model teacher, good looking wife etc – its as if we only think of child molesters as sleezy, grubby, easily recognized characters ,when in reality they can be anyone. Even in her teaching lessons she obsesses about sex, talking about Romeo and Juliet, lord of the flies etc and bringing the sexual side in. She uses essays to discover what attracts her chosen boy to females, so she can emulate their choice. The kids love her as they see her as one of them and that’s one of the dangers. Because she does well with them the other teachers assume all is well. Its a sharp reminder we need to look beyond the surface of people and see what they are really doing.
At her trial there a part which mad me really sad, a bad reflection of society and yet very, very true. Her solicitor pushes the jury towards the view that 14 year old boys are ruled by their hormones, and that they made advances to her, and that most kids (and adult men) would envy them being sexually active with such a good looking young woman. I can see that as an argument used in reality. 😦 We’re shocked at girls being groomed and yet a boy groomed by an attractive lady – its “whoa, good for you mate!” kind of attitude. We need to change that quickly. Alissa goes on to show us a bit about how badly affected the boys are – especially Jack who threw his emotions whole heartedly in and now has guilt feelings about what happened, including his part in what happened with his father. Its something that would be hard to recover from, and if it were real I think he’d need a great deal of help to get past it.
It left me wondering what made Celeste this way, someone doesn’t suddenly turn to kids for sex, there must have been some indications somewhere before it got this far? Something that happened to her maybe? Abusers are often abuse victims themselves. Sadly we also see how lightly she gets off at the end (IMO anyway) and how all the restrictions on keeping her from schools etc doesn’t stop her getting in contact with more kids for sex.
Its a sad story, really well written and realistic. Its not one I’d re read but was incredibly moving thinking about what went on, why she was as she was, what would happen to the boys after, and why the trial went as it did. I could relate it easily to a real event, everything was so carefully written and full of realism. It felt like reading a factual tale of something that had happened. It left me feeling sad for all of them, all those affected, the boys and their families, and even Celeste in a way, as though she was caught she didn’t get the help she clearly needed, and went on with her sad and dangerous obsession.
Stars: its rare I give full stars for a book I’ll only read once but this one deserves it., so five it is