Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: July 17th 2018 by St Martin’s Press

Sweetness can be deceptive. 

Meet Hanna.

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.

Meet Suzette.

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.

 

Mommy was only a shell of a person with nothing to give. She was like a store full of bright and tempting candies held captive behind a thick, transparent wall. It wasn’t like Hanna hadn’t tried to tap on the glass and grasp what was inside.

So, it’s possible that I’m just too much of a Southerner for this book, but Baby Teeth absolutely did not work for me. (Well, that’s not 100% true: I think the book’s title and cover art are phenomenal. It was just so melodramatic and implausible that I found myself doing the deepest of eye rolls on more than one occasion, and turning the page became a harder and harder task the further I got along in these pages.

The premise of this novel is very simple: A seven-year-old terrorizes her mother but puts on an innocent face for Daddy, driving a wedge between the couple and driving the mom to desperation. Think The Orphan (2009) meets We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). With that out of the way, we can move on to the merits and non-redeeming qualities of this book, shall we?

One of my pet peeves in fiction is when entire plot lines hinge on implausible circumstances. I heaved this book into that metaphorical pile pretty early on and it will remain there forever. Baby Teeth was kin to those horror movies where the pretty blonde girl is running through the night in her heels and instead of running outside of the house for safety, she runs upstairs to the collective annoyance of the audience. Like, the plot didn’t make ANY sense! Why, you may ask? Because the entire narrative would have been different if one of two SIMPLE things had happened: (view spoiler). That’s why I say I must be too much of a Southerner for this book, because I don’t know anyone, of any color or creed, who would let their kid get away with the things little Hanna got away with – and then crawl and grovel on their knees for this child’s forgiveness after THEY, the PARENT, have been assaulted . Seriously, implausible.

Aside from the sheer improbability of this story line, it also wasn’t very well-written either. And, there are very few things more unforgivable than that to an avid reader. I mean, yes, there were words strung together in a way that made sense in the English language, but I didn’t feel that there was any remarkable skill on display whatsoever. I didn’t feel like I’d stumbled across anything that I would take with me for more than 4 minutes after I turned the final page of that book. It read as a first-time novel for sure, clunky and clumsily done.

I’ve seen Baby Teeth listed as a thriller; it wasn’t that at all, but it COULD have been. It probably would have been a much more enjoyable read—cringe-worthy moments in the plot and all—if it had been written from Suzette’s POV only. Then we could have seen her mounting terror and desperation and feel it in a more pure form—the way that she did. But Stage decided to try her hand at writing in a child’s voice via Hanna’s chapters and it Did. Not. Work. Honestly, a terrible idea given the level of skill she displayed in this novel. Not only did it take away from the suspense to know exactly what Hanna was going to do next from her POV, but the clunky and inauthentic way in which Stage wrote Hanna made reading her chapters a real chore. Of course, I understand that Stage was attempting to speak simplistically, as a child might, but it didn’t sound anything like a seven-year-old’s way of speech and mannerisms in this slightest. Her editor would have done better to tell her to hold off on that.

I nearly didn’t finish this book. I found it to be THAT ridiculous. But, as we readers often do, I just HAD to trudge on to see if my mind would be magically changed in the end. It wasn’t, though the end result of the book was one of the better parts of the plot, so at least there’s that, right? 2 stars **

 

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Zoje Stage An author of dark and suspenseful novels, Zoje lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her debut novel BABY TEETH (St. Martin’s Press) will be released 17 July 2018. It will be released in the UK as BAD APPLE (Transworld).


 


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