Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free copy of Baby Teeth in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
Synopsis from Amazon:
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…
First of all, I find that I really enjoy alternating narrators, and Baby Teeth does just that, switching between seven year old Hannah, and her mother Suzette. Often, a mother chapter would describe something terrible that Hannah had done (how about barking like a dog at the principal while registering for school?) and then include Suzette’s inner dialogue and bafflement at this behavior. I felt that Suzette’s thoughts were very close to what mine would be in the same situation, so I could somewhat relate (to being a mother, not to having a barking daughter).
When Hannah’s chapter rolled around, you got a look into her very calculating mind and saw the reasons behind her bad behavior. By the middle of the book, I was thoroughly creeped out, and by the last third or so, I would worried for Suzette’s safety! Well written and well paced, I really enjoy this novel.
Baby Teeth made my mind work in overdrive for the better part of two days. After finishing it, I immediately went to my Instagram stories to ask other readers for their input. I had a lengthy discussion with Amy @TheSouthernGirlReads and after talking to her I felt a little more clarity. Basically, I saw so much symbolism in this story and I was struggling to decide what this author wanted her readers to get out her novel. In the end, Amy helped me see that I was perhaps overanalyzing just a tad, and it boils down to a very creepy story that really sunk it’s ‘baby’ teeth into me (haha, sorry I had to).
However, I do want to mention some of the symbolism I saw, whether it was intended or not. First of all, I could see such a semblance to the life of a stay at home mom. That mom does everything for her little people all day: cooks, cleans up messes, soothes hurts, entertains and the list goes on. However, daddy is the hero when he gets home even though he has done literally nothing to care for the kids. In Baby Teeth, no matter what terrible thing Hannah did, when Suzette told her husband, he would admonish Hannah for a few seconds before letting everything go back to normal. Needless to say, he is Hannah’s favorite.
Something else I was thinking about while reading was the nature vs. nurture argument. Even though Hannah’s behavior was abhorrent, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had simply learned to manipulate the balances in her household. Suzette was trying to be a good mom, which comes with telling a child no and correcting bad behavior, whereas her father could see no wrong in Hannah, no matter what. Hence, mommy became the enemy and daddy was the hero. Maybe Hanna had slight sociopathic tendencies, predisposed at birth, but would a different setting have changed the outcome?
To wrap things up, I jut need to say that a book that makes me think that hard is a good book indeed. Baby Teeth is very original, well written and though provoking. I finished it a few days ago and am still thinking about it, so I am going to give it a five star rating!