BABY TEETH, BY ZOJE STAGE
I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
I finished this book at the end of October, but then the worst period of my life happened, and there was no place for books or reviews. Such a big break offers an interesting perspective on several books that were read, but never reviewed.
“Baby teeth” obviously made a big impact on me, since it’s still fresh in my mind. And my memory is BAD, like catastrophically bad, especially when it comes to books, for some reason. I have a theory that my brain knows how much I love books, so it wants to make reading extra special for me. Like, do you have a favorite book, especially one with some twists and turns; and you wish you could read this book again and be surprised by it like the first time? I actually CAN do that!
Yet it appears there are some books that are too good to be forgotten.
“Baby teeth” contains not one, but two alternating POVs that paint a devastating picture of a terrible mother-daughter relationship. I mean, most of us have mommy and daddy issues, but this is some next-level shirt!
Hanna is the seemingly sweet, smart, precocious daughter of Alex from Sweden and his wife Suzette. Hanna loves Alex so much that she wants to marry him one day (she’s seven, so marrying her dad is… sweet? Nope, still creepy AF). Too bad that stupid Mommy is in the way.
Meanwhile, Suzette was raised by an absentee mother whose neglect bordered on abuse. Which makes Suzette all the more eager to be the perfect mother and to raise a perfect daughter. She gives up her career to raise her daughter, she’s pouring all her love and energy into Hanna – and Hanna can’t even talk.
Obviously, as things unfold, we see that the relationship is fraught by more problems from both sides, and it wouldn’t be out of place to use the phrase, Well that escalated quickly.
I was debating whether to write a spoiler-free review – but even discussing the book’s many achievements can be considered a spoiler. So let me just say that I loved “Baby teeth” and this is one of those rare occasions where I would love to get a sequel! The writing of debut author Zoje Stage is engaging and intriguing. She’s dealing with a very sensitive subject and she doesn’t shy away from exploring it, but she’s also not making it too over-the-top. This is the story that seems completely realistic.
Five real stars for Baby Teeth!
AND NOW FOR THE SPOILERS!
From the beginning of Hanna’s narrative I was getting strong Omen vibes, which was both positive and disappointing. Positive because I’m a sick weirdo who loves me some creepy, murderous children. And disappointing because it’s been done before and there aren’t too many ways to go with this character arc.
Or so I thought! It turns out that a masterful author like Zoje Stage can bring the Omen type story down to earth, making it completely believable. What? You don’t know what your kid is thinking, and don’t pretend like you do! In fact, that’s one of the most hypnotizing and scary notions of the novel – you never know what your kid is thinking, so how can you be sure that he’s not plotting your violent death? Yeah, marinate on that thought for a while and you won’t be able to sleep without locking your bedroom door.
Suzette’s horror is amplified by Hanna’s stubborn refusal to speak, and when someone finds a way to communicate with Hanna, Suzette really wishes that she could remain oblivious to what was happening in her daughter’s mind.
Speaking of which, my only issue with the novel was the choice of Hanna’s imaginary (or was she?) confidant, the French Witch. I was so not on board with this narrative choice, and that is what was giving me the Omen vibes, but the way that this particular thread unraveled was, once again, quite believable.
And I loved that the parents followed through with taking Hanna to little kids’ loony bin, cause I was afraid that poor clueless daddy would rather ship off mommy than part with his precious squirrelly girl. But no, common sense prevailed, and that also set this book apart from the others of a similar nature. Too often do the kids go unpunished for the terrible things they do, because grown-ups feel the need to believe in a child’s innocence above all.
Which is why I want the sequel! Preferably when Hanna tricks the loony bin into thinking that she’s been cured and goes on a revenge spree against mommy and possibly daddy – I wonder how strong her love would remain after daddy sent her away…