Saturday, March 30, 2019

Baby Teeth

Title:  Baby Teeth
Author:  Zoje Stage
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1250170753 / 978-1250170750

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Maybe the machine could see the words she never spoke."

Favorite Quote:  "Please let reason be enough."

Alex, Suzette, and Hanna are a family. Alex and Suzette are married, and Hanna is their seven-year old daughter. Hanna is selectively mute. She cannot or will not speak; the answer depends on who you ask. Alex and Suzette have had her evaluated for physical ailments; Hanna is physically healthy. She does not speak and has other behavioral issues. At age seven, she has been kicked out of several schools. Suzette is her full-time caregiver while Alex is out of the house, working and financially supporting the family.

What makes Hanna unusual is the fact that she wants her mother dead. She wants her father all to herself. Yes, that's right. A seven year old character is depicted as purposefully altering her behavior to torment her mother and yet appear innocent and angelic to her father.

On the other side, Suzette is a overwrought mother. She is overwhelmed not just with motherhood and the sinister behavior of her child but also with physical ailments and unhealed wounds of her own past. She believes that Hanna is purposeful in attacking her, but Alex refuses to see.

This is an unhappy household!

This book is billed as horror and a suspense thriller. For me, the "horror" of the horror movies or books lies in their believability. What can be terrifying is the thought that the events depicted could happen. For me, this book never establishes that connection. The story is told in alternating chapters from Hanna's point of view and from Suzette's perspective. Hanna's chapters do not sound like that of a young child - a conniving villain, yes but not the child she is depicted to be. Suzette's chapters focus a lot on her past and on physical illness which is exacerbated by the stress of the situation. As an adult, I would think that other choices and other venues would be available to Suzette, but none emerge in this book.

After a while, the book becomes a repeating loop of Hanna trying to maneuver her mother out of the picture, and Suzette becoming more and more overwhelmed. Alex floats somewhere in the middle, pacifying both sides...
  • Hanna:  I don't like Mommy. I want Mommy gone. I want Daddy all to my self.
  • Suzette:  Hanna's causing problems and has problems. I have Crohn's Disease. I cannot cope. Alex won't listen.
  • Alex:  Hanna's my "squirrelly" girl (I assume that's a term of endearment, but I don't know what that means). I am Swedish (it's said a lot, but I don't know what relevance it has).
The book never really evolves beyond this point.

What makes a suspense thriller work is a twist or an unexpected surprise. That too does not emerge in this book. The ending seems almost prosaic and anticlimactic.

The book has been compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. To me, the comparison does not hold true. This book lacks the intensity or the depth of characters that those books had. Those books left me with a lot to think about; this one just does not.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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