Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: July 17th, 2018
Synopsis: 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, 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.
Let me say from the onset that Baby Teeth will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s dark and disturbing, and when I finished it last night I found myself unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The 3rd person narrative alternates between Hanna and her mother. Hanna is a seven-year-old precocious child, who presents two completely different sides to her parents, Suzette and Alex. With her father, she’s a sweet little angel, but with her mother, she increasingly demonstrates how much she resents and hates her. While seeing Hanna’s perspective adds to the intensity of the story, there are some inconsistencies with her thinking and actions. As each of her chapters begins, she sounds and acts like the seven-year-old she is, albeit a disturbingly creepy one. But then her mental thoughts turn into sophisticated ones that come across as way too adult, even for an exceptionally bright child. This aside, the author crafts her into at times a sympathetic figure, but more often than not, a menacing one who scared the heck out of me.
While Suzette isn’t perfect by any means, I felt a lot of empathy for her. She suffers from a particularly nasty case of Crohn’s disease, and this coupled with her surviving a childhood filled with neglect, had me forming an instant connection with her, even when I didn’t agree with her responses to Hanna. She loves her daughter yet is increasingly afraid of her. When you add in anger and resentment, you have a mother who’s not only at war with her daughter, but also herself.
I didn’t care for Alex in the beginning as he’s written as your stereotypical father who’s clueless and in denial about his daughter, but about halfway in, he starts to realize that Suzanne may be right about Hanna. Watching him come to grips with the truth, trying to protect his wife while still loving his daughter, adds another layer to this twisted yet captivating tale.
The ending wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was one of several that I had envisioned and I found it believable. Overall, I enjoyed(?) Baby Teeth and I’m impressed with Zoje Stage’s debut. It’s an unflinching look at at childhood mental illness and a couple’s difficulty of finding help and coping with it. It’s a riveting domestic thriller with horror added in which should appeal to fans of books such as Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.