A battle of wills between mother and daughter reveals the frailty and falsehood of familial bonds in award-winning playwright and filmmaker Zoje Stage’s tense novel of psychological suspense, Baby Teeth.
Afflicted with a chronic debilitating condition, Suzette Jensen knew having children would wreak havoc on her already fragile body. Nevertheless, she brought Hanna into the world, pleased and proud to start a family with her husband Alex. Estranged from her own mother, Suzette is determined to raise her beautiful daughter with the love, care, and support she was denied.
But Hanna proves to be a difficult child. Now seven-years-old, she has yet to utter a word, despite being able to read and write. Defiant and anti-social, she refuses to behave in kindergarten classes, forcing Suzette to homeschool her. Resentful of her mother’s rules and attentions, Hanna lashes out in anger, becoming more aggressive every day. The only time Hanna is truly happy is when she’s with her father. To Alex, she’s willful and precocious but otherwise the perfect little girl, doing what she’s told.
Suzette knows her clever and manipulative daughter doesn’t love her. She can see the hatred and jealousy in her eyes. And as Hanna’s subtle acts of cruelty threaten to tear her and Alex apart, Suzette fears her very life may be in grave danger…
“Grown-ups talked about boring things in boring ways and it was almost enough to put her to sleep. But then Mommy made a gasping noice and she hoped for a moment that Daddy was strangling her.”
Hanna is seven and non-verbal. She’s been kicked out of several schools because they weren’t “good fits” for her so she’s stuck at home with Mommy… whom she truly hates. All Hanna wants is Daddy, and Mommy out of the picture. Hanna will do everything in her power to try and make it that way.
“Just get her out of this fu***** house,” she muttered under her breath. She clenched her fists. Don’t strangle her. Don’t strangle her. Alex would never forgive her if she tightened her hands around their daughter’s throat.”
Suzette thought having a daughter would be perfect. They’d do art projects and all the fun things mothers and daughters do together. But the older Hanna gets the more Suzette realizes that something is truly wrong with her daughter. Hanna begins terrorizing Suzette and it leaves her frightened for her life, but if Alex doesn’t see what’s wrong with their own daughter, how will they ever get her help?
Hannah sat poised, ready for the next word.
“Strawberry. Straw-berry. She couldn’t eat just one strawberry.”
Hannah covered the paper with her hand so Mommy couldn’t’ see what she was writing.
“That seems a bit long for one word– what are you spelling over there?”
Hannah giggled and kept writing. When she was ready, she held up her masterpiece.
F*** Mommy. She is weak and stupid.“
There are some books you read that stay with you until you close the cover, and then some you read that will stay with you long after. BABY TEETH is one that will stay with me for a while. . . and not in a happy, butterflies in my stomach, smiley faces and rainbows kind of way. More of a every child I run into is an undercover, secret psycho that wants to destroy their parents, type of way.
As a mother of a 7 year old (Hanna’s age), and a 13 month old, BABY TEETH thoroughly freaked me out. So thank you to the author, Zoje Stage, for that! I think the biggest fear for a parent is something being terribly wrong with their child, and on the top of that list is having child that may possibly want to murder you in your sleep. How horrifying it must feel to have to lock the doors at night so your own child won’t try to hurt you while you sleep?
“Because I’m not Hannah,” the girl whispered.
There are several scenes in this book that read like a horror movie. Hanna starts talking to Suzette after not saying any words her whole life, and what comes out of this 7 year old’s mouth is extremely creepy. BABY TEETH will be a bit controversial. I can see some readers having problems with a few scenes, specifically a scene relating to the devil. . . but don’t let that deter you from picking this one up. Once I started I couldn’t put it down.
When I finished reading I immediately cuddled with my 7 year old and was so thankful that she wasn’t like Hanna. If you’re searching for a book that isn’t the normal, cookie cutter thriller, pick up BABY TEETH. Zoje Stage didn’t hold anything back with this one!
*Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for this review copy!