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Taboo-Tackling Fiction: A Reading List

Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

tampa alissa nuttingThis installment of the Riot Recommendation is sponsored by Tampa by Alissa Nutting.

Suburban eighth-grade English teacher Celeste Price is sizzling hot, drives a red Corvette, and is married to a rich, square-jawed cop. But behind her attractive façade lies a monster-a remorseless and meticulous predator obsessed with one desire: fourteen-year-old boys. And the bell has just rung on the first day of school at Jefferson Jr. High. . . .

Filled with shocking encounters, the thrill and terror of exposure, and inevitable scandal and disgrace, Tampa is a provocative, uncompromising seriocomic examination of want and our fixation with youth; a frank, thoughtful, and unabashedly sexual tale that explores one fictional woman’s overwhelming desires, darkest pathologies, and overwhelming needs-and how far she will go to satisfy them.



One of the glories of fiction is that it allows us to explore ideas and experiences, even (and especially) those we might not want to have in real life, from a safe distance. We can ask, “What kind of a person would do X?” or “What would happen if I did Y?” and get some answers by spending a few hundred pages inside a fictional character’s head. We can close the book if things get too creepy or intense and go right back to our normal lives. How great is that?!

We asked you to tell us about your favorite books that tackle taboo subjects.  Here’s what you came up with:

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Sing Me Home by Jodi Picoult

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Naked Lunch and Junky by William S. Burroughs

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch

Fanny Hill by John Cleland

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

The Reader by Bernard Schlink

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

A few short stories: 

“Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland

“The Snake’s Wife” by Ann Leckie

“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky


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