Zoje Stage‘s novel Baby Teeth is a mesmerizing mix of thriller, horror, and mystery.
This novel focuses on a mother-daughter dynamic that takes “dysfunctional” to a whole new level. Exhausted stay-at-home mom Suzette finds that she is at the end of the rope with her daughter Hanna. Refusing to speak, Hanna has proven to be a small girl capable of a frightening temper and disturbing tendencies. Kicked out of every school she’s ever enrolled, Suzette finds that being alone with her daughter all day is destroying their relationship and causing her to lose her sanity.
The problem? Her husband, Alex, views Hanna as the perfect little girl since she behaves well whenever he is around. Therefore, he has trouble believing the things that Suzette says of their daughter. Much of this book is dedicated to Hanna’s scheming to make her mother’s life miserable and Suzette worrying about what her daughter will do next, while Alex is stuck in the middle, oblivious to the toxic situation brewing in his own household.
This novel alternates between Suzette and Hanna’s point-of-view. With Suzette, the reader is able to experience the fear, paranoia, and hopelessness that assaults her as Hanna’s alarming behavior continues to escalate. With Hanna, readers find themselves in the disturbed mind of a child that views the world in an unnatural manner. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Hanna will stop at nothing until her mother is gone for good. Soon, the situation pitting daughter against mother becomes very dangerous.
I’m conflicted on how I feel about this book. On one hand, I found it engaging, suspenseful, and strangely fascinating. The characters seemed well-developed and were able to pull me into the story. Towards the end, it transformed into a real page-turner, as I found myself invested in these characters and was eager to see how it was going to all end.
However, it also fell flat in certain places. Though I do appreciate that Hanna’s perspective in the novel was able to show readers her motives and thought process, it also took away some of the suspense and paranoia that could have been built up more if the story remained one-sided. While it was certainly disturbing to read a book featuring a child who has murderous intentions, the shock value just wasn’t impactful enough. Also, I found myself growing frustrated with Suzette and Alex. Suzette, for not thinking to record her daughter misbehaving so she could prove her point, and Alex for so easily dismissing his wife’s desperate pleas.
It’s more of a slow-burn book, as it takes a while for the stakes to be truly raised. The shock value that this book holds depends on what kind of reader you are. As well, it’s obviously not for everyone. Overall, I found it to be a decent thriller featuring interesting characters and a plot that takes a dark turn.