Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: July 17, 2018
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
(Digital ARC provided by the publisher thru NetGalley in exchange for an honest review)
A seemingly perfect family is the center of this thriller of a debut from former filmmaker Zoje Stage.
Sweetness can be deceptive.
She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.
She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.
Baby Teeth takes the love-hate relationship between a mother and her daughter to a new level and will make you question just how far can a mother stretch her love for a child who keeps pushing her.
Told from the point of view of emotionally-exhausted Suzette and precocious but silent Hanna in interchanging chapters, mother and daughter play protagonist of their own stories, and each other’s antagonist.
Stay-at-home mom Suzette loves her daughter, but Hanna is making it hard for her. Gone is the dark-haired angel she brought to life replaced by an intelligent but devious, cunning and manipulative child with the full intent to harm her. With a husband who is too blind to see that there is something wrong with their child, Suzette is backed into a corner helpless as she fears for her life and watches as her idealized, perfect family falls apart.
Hanna loves her father and she wants him all to herself. With the help of a late 17th century witch as her imaginary friend, she finds her voice and plot ways to get rid of her mother, the only person who stands in the way between her and daddy.
I have to be upfront, Baby Teeth was a tough book to read. There were parts I loved and parts I didn’t. I will try to detail both polar ends as much as possible in this review without spoiling the story starting with the things I liked about this book.
Baby Teeth is a well-written book. Zoje Stage is sure to hook readers, reel them into her story with her snappy, straightforward writing. It’s jarring, but she does not sugarcoat things, neither does she go into unnecessary detail – what you see is what you get no matter if you like it or not.
Another thing that I really love about Baby Teeth are the characters. Stage’s characterization of both Suzette and Hanna is so strong you could just imagine them pop out of the pages. These two characters are the heart and soul of this book, driving the plot and moving the story with every step, every decision they make, which is a testament to just how perfect Stage played Suzette and Hanna against each other.
Now, for the parts that could have been done better.
From start to finish, I had one major problem while reading Baby Teeth – I couldn’t suspend my disbelief – and the reason for this, Hanna. Though she speaks like a 7-year old, the way she thinks is more apt for a 12-year old, which is why I just can’t picture her as she is described in the book. The whole time I was reading the book I found myself asking this question: “Can a 7-year old really make very detailed plans?” And the answer I keep on getting from both a personal and professional viewpoint: “No”. It just stopped me from fully enjoying the story, which takes a big chunk of how I rate books.
Still, Baby Teeth is a worthy read. It’s a strong, controversial debut, and I’m sure other people will love it. I guess, it just wasn’t for me.