I'm going to chime right in on the controversy surrounding Alissa Nutting's novel Tampa—because I liked the book quite a lot, and if scandal-mongering and prurience causes more people to pick it up, well, okay then.

The eyebrow waggling over Tampa—and the reason several people I know haven't been able to finish it—is because it graphically depicts the sexual conquests of a female pedophile, a sexy sociopath who becomes a middle-school teacher so as to improve her access to adolescent boys. Celeste is straight out of the "Hot for Teacher" video, a teenaged boy's fantasy come to life—and her actions have severe consequences for the still-developing young men she preys upon.

The boys are more than willing to give Celeste what she wants, of course, and in the book's uncomfortably explicit sex scenes, Nutting navigates an uncomfortable line between their eager consent and the clear exploitation that's underway. Celeste is sociopathic, remorseless, and attractive. She and the boys she seduces want the same thing, but they are too young and too unformed to understand what they're getting into—and Celeste simply doesn't care.

The narration is first person, and it's awfully smart and funny and sardonic inside Celeste's head: She feels not a pang of guilt about her actions, and she's concerned only with gratifying her desires, plotting to discard one young conquest as soon as he passes through puberty.

Despite its grim subject matter, Tampa is a very funny book, and I think this is where some readers might be having trouble: It's a satire, a sendup of our cultural ideas about sexuality and desire and beauty and youth. The novel itself doesn't take a clear stance condemning Celeste or her actions—the poor reader actually has to do a bit of thinking about what Nutting is trying to accomplish. And there's plenty to unpack here, including the different way our culture approaches male and female sexuality; and the way we fetishize youth even as, moment by moment, it slips away from us.