WOW! What a captivating story! BABY TEETH is Zoje Stage's debut novel, and what a novel is it. It is a psychological thriller that tells the story of a family that tries their best to appear normal, but is really ripping apart at the seams. I couldn't put the book down because I needed to know what was going to happen next.
Seven-year-old Hanna is the apple of her daddy's eyes, and they both adore each other. The only problem is that Mommy keeps getting in the way and stealing away some of Daddy's affection that Hanna feels should only be for her. Things would be so much better if Mommy would just go away so that Hanna could have Daddy all to herself. And the incredibly smart and manipulative Hanna is determined to make that happen.
Suzette knows that something is wrong with her daughter. Even though she is seven-years-old, Hanna has never spoken a word to anyone other than a few recent utterances that she's made to Suzette while claiming to be a witch from 1600s France. The doctors can't find anything physically wrong with Hanna that might be preventing her from talking. And since Hanna can make sounds and be vocal otherwise, it's becoming clear that Hanna just won't talk. Suzette tries to be the best mother that she can be - making up for the lack of love and care that she received from her own mother. But Hanna rejects her mother's love and instead torments her. Suzette can't get away from her daughter because she is stuck with her all day, every day. Hanna has been kicked out of every school she has been admitted to and no babysitter will come back. Suzette, who has her own medical conditions, is becoming more and more stressed out over dealing with her difficult daughter. Suzette sees a side of Hanna - an evil side - that her husband refuses to believe is possible in his sweet, affectionate daughter. It isn't until Hanna becomes violent towards Suzette that Alex finally accepts that something is seriously wrong with his daughter. Alex is forced to take action to protect his wife and "cure" his daughter, and the only action he can take is to send Hanna away to a special school that can help troubled children like her. But that's not okay with Hanna. It's not okay at all. And Hanna knows the only way to get back to Daddy is to play along and pretend she is getting better. Only then can she go home and finally get rid of Mommy for good.
Now just because Hanna is pure evil, that doesn't mean Suzette is all goodness. In fact, she's not always very likeable. The way she speaks to her daughter can be horrendous - but I can't really blame her considering Hanna is trying to kill her. But the fact that Suzette isn't the most likeable of characters left me cheering for Hanna on occasion. I didn't exactly support Hanna's psychotic, matricidal thoughts/actions, but I could understand (at least on some level) why she might want to get rid of Mommy. Like Suzette, I wondered if Hanna was born this way or if Suzette did something to make her daughter into this evil little person.
Despite being a creepy, thrilling novel, BABY TEETH was also a fun read. Seeing it from both the mother's and the daughter's perspectives gave a well-rounded picture of the dysfunctional family. The father's prolonged oblivion and denial that anything is wrong with his little princess shows how and why it has taken this long for the little girl to get the help that she needs. It also shows how the family has gotten into the dysfunctional mess that it is in. If you're into chilling, psychological thrillers about evil/creepy children, BABY TEETH is the novel for you.
Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy.