Baby Teeth is a cross between a thriller and a horror novel. I’m not normally a horror fan, but the synopsis for this caught my eye, and I decided to take a chance on the book. Unfortunately, the story leaned a bit too heavily toward the horror side of things, and I found myself pretty dissatisfied.
There’s nothing Suzette wants more than to be a good wife to Alex and a good mother to seven-year-old Hannah, but life is beginning to take a toll on her. She’s dealt with an autoimmune disorder for years, and there are days when she wonders if good health is something she’ll ever experience again. Plus, Hannah has always been a difficult child to whom Suzette has never felt close. She’s been expelled from countless schools, and Suzette is now trying to homeschool her, but Hannah seems to be an indifferent pupil. She never speaks, but there doesn’t seem to be a medical reason for her muteness, and Suzette is reaching the end of her rope.
Things wouldn’t be so grim if she and Alex could approach Hannah’s difficulties as a united front, but Alex appears blind to the problems Suzette deals with on a daily basis. In his eyes, Hannah is a perfect angel who is perhaps a little too high-spirited for her own good. For years, Suzette has tried to convince him that something isn’t right with their child, but he refuses to heed her fears. Whenever he’s around, Hannah’s behavior is exemplary, causing Suzette to doubt her own perceptions.
Hannah loves her father, and she wants nothing more than for the two of them to be together forever. To her way of thinking, her mother is simply in the way, and she’s determined to find a way to be rid of her. Now that she’s seven, Hannah is sure she’ll be able to come up with a foolproof plan. All she has to do is bide her time, and before long, everything will be perfect, just the way she’s always wanted it to be.
As Hannah’s behavior worsens, Suzette begins to wonder if it’s really safe for her to care for her child at home; maybe everyone would be better off if Hannah was cared for by trained professionals. Of course, Alex won’t hear of such a thing, but Suzette knows she can’t cope for much longer. Eventually, Hannah will go too far and someone will get hurt or maybe even killed.
This novel was incredibly hard for me to get through, and I found the subject matter quite disturbing. In fact, I had the take several breaks from the book, something I rarely have to do. I read a ton of thrillers, so violence isn’t normally a problem for me, but Baby Teeth takes things to the extreme. However, the violence wasn’t the biggest problem. Instead, it was Hannah’s manipulative nature that made me the most uncomfortable. There was something about a child plotting to kill her own mother that set my teeth on edge, and I was quite relieved when I turned the final page.
Suzette is a very sympathetic heroine. It’s obvious she only wants what is best for her family, but figuring out what that is doesn’t turn out to be easy. She’s a kind, compassionate woman who tries way too hard to please those who are important to her, even when doing so ends up being detrimental to her own health and safety. There were times I wanted her to just run away from the horrible situation she was in, but such an action wouldn’t have been true to the character, and I applaud the author’s choice to have her fight to set things right.
Alex is much harder to like – he comes off as purposely clueless. He’s decided there’s nothing wrong with his little girl, and he’s determined not to change his mind. I longed for him to be more supportive of his wife, but he was unable to see beyond his own preconceived notions.
If movies like The Bad Seed are your cup of tea, you’re likely to enjoy this story. Ms. Stage is a gifted writer, and if the novel’s plot hadn’t been so disturbing, I imagine it would have been quite easy for me to lose myself in the world she has created. Her prose is lush without being overly descriptive and she brings her characters to life in a way that is almost startling, and I was able to identify with the difficulties they faced with no problem. But good writing doesn’t necessarily lead to a great book, and I can’t in good conscience recommend Baby Teeth.