Hidey ho readers and happy Friday eve! I’ve got some great things in store for the remainder of this week and I’ve been burning through books and it’s been absolutely magnificent! My husband and I went and saw the Last Podcast on the Left live show last night and it was amazing! If you don’t already listen to their stuff you need to start because it’s funny and true-crime and well researched and just…well, do it! Alrighty then, today I’m bringing you a review for Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage and honestly, I’m having a hell of a hard time putting my thoughts into words on this one. This was an incredibly bizarre read so bear with me.
We begin our story with Suzette. Suzette is a stay at home mother to her daughter Hanna, a doting and loving wife to her husband Alex and to say the very least: girl is strugglin’. She’s had a rough upbringing and has been struggling since she was a teenager with Crohn’s – an autoimmune disease that left her with major medical and personal implications. From there, she has unrealistic expectations for herself as a mother and as a wife. All Suzette ever wanted was a happy, healthy home with a happy, healthy husband and child. The problem here: Hanna, is creepy and crazy AF.
Hanna didn’t think it was fair that Sunshine had such perfect hair – the color of Daddy’s. Sometimes she gazed at it, longing to take a knife to Sunshine’s scalp and remove her fine locks. Hanna imagined herself proudly wearing the wig she’d make, unbothered by the stray trickle of blood that might dribble down her forehead.
To say Hanna is deeply troubled is obviously an understatement. We’re given dual POVs here switching between Suzette’s perception of things and Hanna’s. What drives Suzette and Alex the craziest, and makes it the hardest for Suzette to fully express the depth of Hanna’s manipulation is that she seemingly refuses to speak a word to anyone. However, as the story progresses Hanna has finally started to speak but she wont speak to anyone but Suzette and what she has to say is deeply disturbing. Hanna tells her mother that she is Marie-Anne Dufosset, a young French girl, burned at the stake with her mother during the witch trials. She is here to help Hanna hunt, hurt and remove “mommy” from taking any attention of her fathers away from Hanna herself.
Now that she knew the name of the game – Scare Mommy – she should be able to defend herself. But goosebumps rose on her skin, even under the heat of the water, when she thought about her creepy daughter. The whites of her eyes. Her ability to sneak up on her as she slept.
I think I’ll start here with what did work for me in this one. Stage is a truly incredibly writer and the prose, while sinister were also bright and vivid. I was left very impressed by the dual POVs and the way Hanna was written in particular. While reading, it was clear that we were receiving a child’s perspective, however, the quality of writing never suffered and was never juvenile to express this. The character development was solid, and the forward progression was consistent.
Baby Teeth was a refreshing take on an old trope: creepy child come to haunt their parent(s). Despite this being something I think most readers of mystery/thrillers have seen (along with six million movies) I thought it was still inventive and went much more in depth into the child versus the cursory gloss over I find given to most children in these types of reads. It’s much easier to focus on the adult because writing a child in an accessible way is difficult enough, let alone a child who is also off her damn rocker.
Hanna kept her words to herself because they gave her power. Inside her, they retained their purity. She scrutinized Mommy and other adults, studied them. Their words fell like dead bugs from their mouths. A rare person, like Daddy, spoke in butterflies, whispering colors that made her gasp. Inside, she was a kaleidoscope of racing, popping, bursting exclamations, full of wonder and question marks.
What didn’t work for me is a whole myriad of smaller details. While on the whole, these details were less important than the general takeaway, there were so many little things that bothered me it took away from my ability to see the entire story. First and foremost, this book was trying achingly hard to be shocking and controversial. While many of the exchanges between Hanna and her mother are creepy and sinister and added suspense to this read, it became redundant and honestly kind of boring. You’re left waiting the entire read for the other shoe to drop, for something, anything other than creepy words and minor actions to take place.
The grotesque focus on sex and Suzette’s illness also really turned me off. It felt like Stage didn’t want just one aspect of the read to be shocking – every.single.part. had to be. This ended up not working because it made every character inaccessible and I found myself asking “was that description really necessary?” quite often. It’s not that Suzette or Alex were necessarily unlikable but I couldn’t connect to them at all. Alex’s complete buffoonery and ineptitude towards actually paying attention to his family was another major turn off for me that made it difficult for me to see anything realistic about this novel.
It was hard to pour endless love into someone who wouldn’t love you back. No one could do it forever.
In the end, while this book wasn’t a total knock out for me, it wasn’t a complete failure either. I did spend the majority of the time wanting it to just get on with it but I was also rapt and unable to step away because I wanted to see how it ended. Stage created a truly sinister character in 7 year old Hanna and I was incredibly impressed with her sections in particular. The ending did leave me questioning if there is a planned sequel, and I personally think that would be a mistake. However, I don’t regret having read this one but it’s not going to make it on my favorites shelf either.
Long story short:
Suggested For: Someone looking for a book that’s been deemed controversial, those who enjoy the creepy child trope and general fans of thrillers (this shows up in the horror section, but I don’t personally think that is accurate)
Music Mood: The Place I left Behind by The Deep Dark Woods
Have you read Baby Teeth? If so, what did you think? How do you feel about the ‘creepy child’ trope? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!