By Zoje Stage
Publisher: St. Martins Press
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.
Warning: This one is a bit winded. I have edited and edited, but I have a few things to say.
Baby Teeth starts off with a promising narrative that alternates between 7-year-old Hanna and her mother Suzette. Hanna has yet to begin speaking but is otherwise highly intelligent. She loves her daddy dearly and feels that her mother is coming between them and the life they should have together. She will stop at nothing to remove Suzette from the equation.
Suzette loves Hanna, but is struggling to understand her silence and constant bad behavior that ironically never occurs when her husband is present. She is searching for answers while dealing with her own personal battle with Crohn’s disease that includes a history of surgeries and many complicated symptoms. She is exhausted and increasingly concerned with Hanna’s behavioral issues and her husband’s obliviousness to it all.
“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.”
I have read several other reviews and spoken with a few friends in the book community, and I know that one question revolving around Baby Teeth has been how parents will handle a thriller that involves an “evil” child. Personally, as a mother, I can say I find myself drawn to them! I am not exactly sure what this says to me, but I have always gravitated towards films and books such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Good Son, etc. Perhaps it is the fact that I am a parent that makes them more thrilling or terrifying and this is where I often find success in them? Or perhaps it is my continuing fascination with the human psyche and behavior?
Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth starts off strong, striving to be no exception. The decision to split the narrative works brilliantly, pitting mother and daughter against one another and exposing the reader to various family dynamics. It sets a promising stage that is likely to deliver for many readers. However, I encountered some major obstacles that greatly impacted my time with the story and not in the best of ways.
“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.”
Hanna’s narrative was inconsistent when compared to that of a 7-year-old. I tried to suspend belief and go with it, as I understand this is fiction and she is certainly not your average child. But, in the end, these constant fluctuations between childlike and adult mentality became too much. Throughout story progression, her actions and the possibility of them continued to lose credibility. As a result, the tension was slowly stripped away from about 50% on.
Suzette was also deeply flawed as a character. I was sympathetic to her plight, having no real sense of what my own composure would be under such circumstances, but her affection for Hanna was suspicious and wavering early on. This drove an immediate wedge between us.
“It was hard to pour endless love into someone who wouldn’t love you back. No one could do it forever.”
A large portion of the content felt gratuitous. There was even one particular scene that I believe was added for increased shock appeal that I can actually say I wish had been avoided. It was tactless and improbable. There is no true mystery in Baby Teeth and the ending was fittingly my final disappointment. It was a predictable cliché.
I will admit that Stage’s writing is not without merit. She offers readers a fluid experience that moves at a desirable pace for a thriller. Even with the hurdles I encountered, this was an effortless read. The narration was seamless and concise. Fans of thrillers that are willing to suspend disbelief and seeking a fast read will likely find enjoyment in Baby Teeth. For myself, there was a disconnect with the characters that I never fully recovered from.
Contains some violence, sexual content and themes of chronic illness.
*I would like to thank St. Martins Press for this advanced copy. The quotes included above are from the advanced copy and subject to change. This review is my own, unbiased and honest opinion.
Pair this fast-paced read with a crisp herbal mint blend.
*Disclosure: I use affiliate links and may earn a small commission for purchases made through them. Click here for details.