Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Date of Publication: July 17, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Seven-year-old Hanna is a beautiful, sweet, and adoring child. To her father. To her mother, she’s something else entirely. She wants Daddy all to herself, and she will stop at nothing to get rid of Mommy…
The rest of the review focuses on analyzing the characters with no plot spoilers.
This book is a compelling and quick read. However, I found the writing style to be lacking. The story is narrated by Suzette and Hanna, the mother and daughter respectively. I wanted to feel more for the characters, but the way that it’s written distances you from the narrators. This approach makes perfect sense for Hanna, the little girl who’s possibly a sociopath, but for the mother, it would have been beneficial for Stage to build that connection between the reader and this character. The stakes are high, and it would have made for a stronger read if I’d been able to care about what happens to Suzette. It isn’t clear if Suzette truly loves her daughter, which adds to the sensationalism of the novel, but also makes it difficult to relate to. I think this issue stems from the fact that the novel begins in the middle of Hanna “acting out”. This may have worked if the author had included flashbacks to before Hanna became such an unruly child, to show how Suzette once loved her unconditionally, to demonstrate how her feelings have devolved into fear and almost—dare I say–indifference. She cares about her daughter’s well-being, but seemingly only because she wants her husband to be pleased, and she wants to present the picture of a perfect mother to the outside world.
While the mother’s feelings for her daughter are one of my main criticisms of the book, it also manages to become a strength. This ties into Suzette’s own mother, and how she was treated as a child. Her fears of becoming her mother are becoming actualized. Suzette has overcompensated for her mother’s inability to control her emotions by being a robot—a picture of a perfect mother—to her daughter. Hanna senses this insincerity and interprets it as a lack of love for her. Is she right about this?
While this book is very interesting, I found that Hanna’s Machiavellian machinations were a little contrived and not particularly original. The things that she does earlier in the book are more unique and unsettling, and while they do escalate, they become slightly less “intelligent”, which goes against the theory that a character like this, an apparent child genius, would evolve and grow and learn from her mistakes.
One thing that I did appreciate in the book was that Hanna did sometimes act like a (relatively normal) child. The story she reads with her father (and the way she tries to recreate the monster/best friend under her bed) is a rare glimpse into how she really is quite young and possibly all she wants is something to love. I liked the uncertainty this scene brought. How can she be a sociopath if she cares so deeply about this toy she’s built? The book would have benefited from taking this moment of uncertainty and allowing it to grow and fester in the readers, causing them to doubt themselves and not know what to believe.
I honestly wouldn’t have finished this book if it hadn’t been such an easy and quick read. I felt compelled to find out what Hanna would do, but, as I said, I wasn’t attached to the characters. It would have made for a different reading experience if I’d actually been invested in the mother’s safety. By the end of the story, I was left disappointed that the book didn’t quite reach the heights of twistedness that I was hoping for. That said, I give this 3 stars for its fast pace and relatively unique concept.
*I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley.*
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