2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

By the time they all sat down…she questioned if she should even tell him. It was too easy to imagine him overlooking the specificity of Hanna’s ominous words in favor of celebrating the achievement of speaking. Or, knowing Hanna, she’d screw up her face, puzzled, and act completely baffled by Suzette’s announcement and pretend it never happened. Whose side would Alex take then? Even Suzette thought it more likely that, mired in worries, she’d misinterpreted what she saw and heard. A nightmare mingling with life, not reality.

WOW. I can’t even tell you what I’m feeling right now, because this book is a tsunami-tornado of emotions and impressions and fears and doubts… First, let me say right off the bat – this will NOT be a book for everyone. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers turned off by the subject matter, questioning why anyone would write – or read – a book about evil in children or a mother-daughter dysfunction so severe that it literally ends in blood and tears. This is a tough book at times. There is a lot of dark, taboo, disturbing stuff brought into the light here, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But my goodness, the story is so well crafted that it would be a crime if it stayed in the dark…

Hanna is not your typical seven year old – even beyond her refusal to speak. And Suzette is not the perfect Stepford mother she wants to be (or, perhaps more accurately, wants people – most notably her husband – to think she is). Those things are both abundantly apparent from the opening pages. In a shifting perspective between Hanna and Suzette, this novel unfolds like a dish towel full of broken glass – there are bits that seem to be begging to draw blood throughout. The story of their family dynamic stutters with every breath. Things are just NOT right, but only Suzette seems to see it – to Daddy-Husband Alex, Hanna is his “squirrely girl” and can do no wrong. Until, in a horrible, morbidly fascinating rush, it becomes blindingly apparent that EVERYTHING is wrong. And from there on, the story is a mad rush to see who will be left standing (quite literally)…

Suzette hadn’t expected to feel like the one on trial. She worried about what Beatrix had written in her notebook, what conclusions she was drawing…It didn’t matter what she did, it was always the mother’s fault.


She didn’t want to tell him the relief she felt…But it still nagged at her that out-of-control Hanna was her fault. Incompetent, stupid, paper doll of a mother. She’d never wanted Alex to see her as flimsy, or lacking in the basic substance that every mother should have.

This is a powerful read. There are a lot of excellent, spot-on observations about Mommy Guilt, the fear that you’ve lost yourself and/or spouse to your child, and the bitter and ugly truths of motherhood (be they genuine or “just” genuinely felt). This is a very dramatic take on those issues, but the issues are no less real in more mundane, everyday life – even if, thank goodness, they are usually experienced with much less bloodshed.

I’m the mother of a toddler who is NOT AT ALL like Hanna and like to think I’m NOT AT ALL like Suzette, lol, but yet still related to her quite strongly in ways that surprised me. I didn’t expect this to be a philosophical study, quite frankly, but it turned out to send my mind reeling in a variety of directions, many unexpected. Example: I’m continually amazed at how women in WILDLY disparate situations, from wildly disparate backgrounds, with wildly disparate issues/concerns/problems find themselves saying/thinking/questioning the same things. Why do we find it so easy to discredit our competence? Why do we default-assume it’s our fault? Why do we question our own judgment so readily? Suzette does it, constantly. You may say – well of course, her child is psychopathic. And that may be true, but I don’t think that’s WHY she does it. She does it because she’s a mommy and a woman and that’s, somehow and for some reason, what a lot of us tend to do.

Suzette internalizes her guilt and fear throughout the story, convinced no one will believe her, sure that she must be exaggerating in the heat of the moment – right up until the moment almost undoes her (literally). She’s sure her husband will think she’s nuts, that she must have somehow failed as a mom, that if she’d only been more or done more, Hanna would be the dream child her husband is convinced she is. The book does an excellent job of addressing the inadequacies, worries, and fears that plague all of us who are trying to be The Best and Most Perfect Mommy Ever. We are, of course, all inevitably doomed to fail – because TBaMPME is a mirage, not a real thing. I didn’t expect this bit of commercial fiction to make me wonder why that is or ponder what it means for women, children, or society – but it did and I did and I think that’s a brilliant thing that I wanted to highlight about this wonder of a book. I suspect it’s an aspect of it that will be largely ignored or overlooked because of the sturm und drang over the murderous child bits, but that would be a shame, because it shouldn’t matter where thoughtfulness comes from or the form it’s presented in. What matters is that something, somewhere, somehow, makes us think…..

My review copy was generously provided by St. Martin’s Press. Baby Teeth releases in the U.S. on July 17, 2018 – I know, I know, that’s a LONG wait. Sorry. Get your pre-order or ask your librarian for an advance hold – you won’t be sorry!

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2 comments to Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

  • suzy

    I have heard such great things about this book, and I just found out today that I won an ARC on Instagram! I’m so excited I can’t stand it.

    • admin

      Thanks for your comment Suzy – you are going to LOVE IT, it’s insane in the best way… Congrats on the ARC – don’t you just love when everything falls into place?? You’ll have to come back and let me know what you think after you read it! It’s intense, but I thought it was really well crafted.

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