Sunday, July 8, 2018

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
St. Martin's Press: 7/17/18
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250170750

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is a recommended horror novel.

Alex and Suzette Jensen are parents to seven-year-old Hanna and don't know what is wrong with their daughter. Hanna is mute. Tests show that there is nothing that is preventing her from speaking. It seems that she just refuses to speak. Hanna acts out and has been asked to leave preschools and schools, leaving  Suzette to homeschool her. Suzette is also suffering from Crohn's disease, and the stress of dealing with Hanna is not helping. Alex is oblivious to Hanna's darker nature.

Suzette knows that Hanna loves her father, Hanna never acts out in front of him and will do anything to make him happy,  but Suzette also knows that Hanna hates her and is becoming more aggressive toward her. Hanna growls and barks like a dog in front of Suzette, but never Alex. When Hanna decides to speak only in front of Suzette, she claims (in a French accent), that she is Marie-Anne Dufosset, a 17th-century girl who was suspected to be a witch. But, Hanna only speaks in front of Suzette and it is only to let her mother know that they are adversaries. It is decidedly ominous and creepy.

Baby Teeth is undoubtedly well written. The narrative is tightly plotted and bursting with tension, so the novel moves along quite swiftly. The chapters alternate between the viewpoint of Suzette and Hanna. You need to know before you read Baby Teeth that this is a dark, disturbing psychological horror novel and Hanna is a budding psychopath (not a sociopath - there is a difference).

My qualms are with how disturbing and unsettling the novel was for me. I had to set it aside and read something else before finishing it, a rare event. It is tense. It is also more than just psychological suspense. It should be classified as a horror novel. You have to be prepared to read a novel where a young girl wants to seriously hurt her mother. You may also have to overlook Hanna's age and wonder if she would be truly capable of everything she does at age seven, including the computer research and her advanced ability to read and comprehend the information she seeks. You also need to be prepared to learn a lot about Crohn's disease. (Now, does it compare favorably to Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin? Perhaps, marginally, although it is not quite as well written and plotted as Shriver's novel.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

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