Baby Teeth – Review

“People told her those were the hardest times, before a child could speak her needs, but for her they were the easiest.”

Hanna doesn’t speak. She doesn’t need to. Not with daddy. He understands her in a way no one else does. Not even Mommy. And that’s a problem. For Mommy.

Except Suzette may be the only person who sees Hanna for who, or what, she actually is. She sees the tantrums. The deviousness. And when her antics start to feel far more sinister, Suzette begins to fear that her daughter is capable of things she never imagined. In a home where Suzette once felt safe and loved, she now feels she’s trapped in a nightmare. The only question is, who is getting out?

“It was hard to pour endless love into someone who wouldn’t love you back. No one could do it forever.”

Baby Teeth is a difficult book for me to review. One the one hand, I absolutely loved how Stage explores the fundamental question in psychology today: nature versus nurture. That is the theme at the core of this book. Hannah, as we discover, is quite the little monster. She’s pathological in her deviousness. And she’s only four. Creepy AF!

Then there’s Suzette. A woman who, like most mothers, isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes. Has her own demons to contend with. Struggles with the demands motherhood places on her, when she is clearly not in a mental state even resembling stable. Or prepared. The dichotomy between this mother/daughter relationship is full of so much delicious tension, I couldn’t get enough.

“Honesty was not an altogether solid subject in her mind; it was a vapory thing, like smoke that was present one minute and began drifting away the next.”

But, then it started to get strange. Yes, I get that this is an intense story line, and while I was holding my breath until the end, I didn’t really buy the ending. It felt, I don’t know, underwhelming. By the end of the novel, we are in. I mean, we are divested in a novel full of awful people dealing with horrific things. Don’t hold back at the end! Give me an ending that shocks me. That horrifies me. That will make me never look at four year olds the same! I felt like the ending we got was a little too neat. A little too predictable. And a little too easy.

Here’s the thing. I am fine with unlikable characters. Hanna is clearly unlikable. She’s manipulative. She’s most probably on the fast track to being a complete sociopath. But Suzette and Alex aren’t actually any better. Which, for the sake of character analysis, I actually liked. I liked that we have to stop and question where this penchant for atrocity comes from. Did Suzette, in fact, cultivate this, or was she just the first victim? What about Alex?

“It tried Mommy’s patience sometimes, but Hanna considered that a good thing because you can’t get better at something without practice, and she wanted Mommy to become more patient.”

This is great in regards to a psychological thriller because it makes you wonder, really wonder, how monsters are made. Can any of us find ourselves in the dragons lair, through actions and behaviors we did to ourselves? This is the line of thinking that makes for fantastic horror. It’s real. It makes us look twice at our own lives. At our own choices. And we shiver in the dark of night, because maybe, just maybe, we relate a bit too much. It hits home, a little too close.

I wanted to close this book and shiver with dark delight. I wanted to be freaked out. But, I wasn’t. And, to be honest, I don’t know if I’m being fair. Not every book ends the way we like, and while I didn’t feel satisfied with the ending, I haven’t been able to get Baby Teeth out of my head since I finished, well over a few weeks ago. And the stories that stick with me, are usually the ones I rave about. I need to process this one more. Really think about it and decide. I’ll probably need to reread it, once my initial reactions have been subdued.

If you love complex books with psychologically compelling plot lines, full of characters that are all kinds of flawed, you’ll enjoy Baby Teeth. It’s creepy. And it’s frightening. It’s a story that will make you react and think. If you’ve read this, tell me what you thought! And if you haven’t, let me know if you do. This is a book that needs to be talked about. It needs to be examined, and processed, and dissected. In that regard, I loved it.

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early review copy!

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