Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Book Review: BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage

Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 17 July 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Book Description:

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.

My musings:

Why do you think that we find books about psychopathic children so intriguing? Perhaps because it goes against all our instincts that children are born intrinsically innocent? It also raises the age-old nature vs nurture question that makes for brilliant debates in bookclub meetings. When I saw that Baby Teeth was being compared to We Need to Talk About Kevin – which is on my list of both most brilliant and most disturbing books I have ever read – I absolutely had to get my hands on it. Even more so when I saw all the divided opinions on social media, with people either loving or hating it in equal measure. So, you ask, which camp am I in?

To be honest, in neither. Baby Teeth was one of those books that kept me turning the pages but left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. There was so much potential for this story to be either totally creepy, or suspenseful, or at least offering some insights into what makes an “evil” child tick. It touched on all of these points, but never really lived up to its full potential for me. I blame this on one thing: Hanna’s POV. I am not usually a fan of reading books that offer the psychopathic perpetrator’s POV, finding that only a few authors can pull this off successfully (perhaps because they are not psychopathic killers – just as well!). Most end up exaggerating the depravity until it crosses the line of credibility, or ends up being too sick for my liking.

With Hanna, a seven year old girl, it was the former. No matter how brilliant Hanna’s mind may have been, I found the idea of a two-, four- or seven-year old being capable of carefully plotting her mother’s death simply too farfetched. The one reason We Need to Talk About Kevin was such a success for me was that we only ever got Eva’s POV, which pre-empted an ever present niggly doubt in the back of my head: was Kevin really as bad as she claimed? Was it her parenting that was defective? Was she misinterpreting his needs and motives? It added suspense and tension, which I found lacking in Baby Teeth. Hanna’s POV never left any doubt about her motives, which at times were bordering on silly. Whilst I found Kevin truly terrifying, I thought Hanna was a brat that could have done with a bit of parental discipline. I may have been able to buy it had Hanna been a bit older and more able of the thought processes described here. The only other way that this could have worked for me would have been to add a creepy supernatural element, some horror, anything to add some suspense or make Hanna appear a threat.

All that said, I kept turning the pages despite my sigh of exasperation about 30% into the book as I flung it from me in frustration and vowed to DNF it. But I picked it up again and kept reading – to the very end, which I guess earns it at least three stars. Why? I’m not sure – on one hand I want my four hours back, on the other the thought of having a child you are frightened of was intriguing and I constantly wondered what I would do if I were in Suzette’s shoes. There was one point at which a therapist came into the picture and added a brief hope of learning something interesting about Hanna’s personality disorder, but unfortunately the thread was not fully explored. 


To sum up the experience for me, a We Need to Talk About Kevin it was not. It was, however, strangely compelling and kept me reading. I can see that Baby Teeth will make some waves in the bookish community once it comes out in July with some staunch loved-it or hated-it factions battling it out on the review front, whilst I am still sitting on the fence watching with morbid fascination as it all unfolds. I guess there is only one way to find out whether this one is for you, so by all means, get yourself a copy and read it!

Thank you to Netgalley and St Martin's Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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