Baby Teeth: A Novel (July 17, 2018) by Zoje Stage
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 17, 2018)
Entertainment Weekly writes that Baby Teeth was like “We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen....” I’m still a bit haunted by We Need to Talk About Kevin so I hoped that I would like the book.
The book description:
Suzette is a devoted stay-at-home mother doing everything she can to connect with her seven-year-old daughter, who cannot—or will not—speak. But ever since Hanna was a baby, Suzette couldn’t help but feel despised by her. Manipulated. And scared to death.
Alex, Hanna’s father, wants to believe his wife’s accounts of Hanna’s cruel and unusual behavior. The only problem is that Alex has never really seen it, himself: Hanna shows him nothing but love. Which is driving Suzette literally crazy. Could it be that Hanna is just a typical, naughty girl—one whose everyday antics toward her mother point to intelligence, creativity, maybe even charm? Or is Hanna, as Suzette fears, actually trying to kill her?
A powerhouse, razor-sharp novel of psychological suspense from blazing new talent Zoje Stage, Baby Teeth raises more questions than it answers—and will leave you guessing until its shocking conclusion.
The story is told in alternating points of view between the mother, Suzette, and the daughter, Hanna. I did not really want to read a seven-year-old’s point of view at first but even this turned out to make the book creepy. At times this narration was a bit too omniscient for my taste but by the end of the story it worked.
Unlike We Need to Talk About Kevin that includes a much longer period of time with the *I’m-glad-he’s-not-my-kid* Kevin, Baby Teeth sticks to a much shorter time period.
What’s creepy: Hanna does not talk. Except, of course, when she conjures a French accent for her first (creepy) sentence to her mother. This very much reminded me of Richard Matheson’s “Drink My Red Blood” with young Jules who “never spoke a word until he was five. Then, one night coming to supper, he sat down at the table and said, ‘Death’.” Hanna’s phrase is not explicitly problematic but I doubt it would sit well with any parent.
I liked that the narration lets us see how Suzette speculates about Hanna’s condition: is her daughter possessed? Is her daughter a psychopath? Is her daughter being molested by her father, whom Hanna adores?
There are specialists, counselors, special schools, and Suzette is more likeable than Eva (see, I keep going back to We Need to Talk About Kevin) but she is whiny.
Dad is in major denial but I doubt you will hate him for it. He is also Swedish, which brings an interesting aspect to the book since some phrases are purely in Swedish with no translation. There is an emphasis on Swedish traditions. Further, there is a witch theme and they celebrate Walpurgisnacht, which surprised and delighted this reader.
In some ways, the book nods more to Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, which to me is the ultimate compliment because that book was amazing.
I was not too surprised by the ending but I also liked it; and, if you know me, I cannot stand neatly *tied up with a happy bow* endings so be forewarned.
The first ten chapters are currently available on Amazon Kindle for free. Follow the link for access.