One of Entertainment Weekly’s Must-Read Books for July
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"Propulsive." New York Times Book Review
One of Bustle's "Fifteen Books With Chilling Protagonists That Will Keep You Guessing"
“A wholly original and terrifically creepy story.” Refinery29
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A Barnes and Noble Blog Best Thriller for July!
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“Summer 2018 Must-Read” Bookish
“Best Summer Reads for 2018” Publishers Weekly
“One of 11 Crime Novels You Should Read in July” Crime Reads
“A twisty, delirious read” EntertainmentWeekly.com
“New & Noteworthy” USA Today
“A deliciously creepy read.” New York Post
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…
“Unnerving and unputdownable, Baby Teeth will get under your skin and keep you trapped in its chilling grip until the shocking conclusion.”New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline
“We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen...a twisty, delirious read that will constantly question your sympathies for the two characters as their bond continues to crumble.”Entertainment Weekly
“A pulse-spiking thriller.”PopSugar
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
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MAYBE THE MACHINE could see the words she never spoke. Maybe they blazed in her bones. Maybe if the people in the white coats blew up the pictures they'd see her thoughts, mapped like mountains and railroad tracks, across her ghostly skull. Hanna knew nothing was wrong with her. But Mommy wanted them to look. Again.
The room in the hospital's dungeon carried the threat of needles and smelled like lemon candies tinged with poison. When she was little, the machine scared her. But now, seven, she pretended she was an astronaut. The rocket ship spun and beeped and she scanned the coordinates, double-checking her course. Through the round window, tiny Earth dropped from view, then she was in the darkness with the glimmering stars, zooming away. No one would ever catch her. She smiled.
"Stay still, please. Almost finished — you're doing great."
The flight director watched her from his monitor. She hated all the ground control people, with their white coats and lilting voices, their play-dough smiles that flopped into frowns. They were all the same. Liars.
Hanna kept her words to herself because they gave her power. Inside her, they retained their purity. She scrutinized Mommy and other adults, studied them. Their words fell like dead bugs from their mouths. A rare person, like Daddy, spoke in butterflies, whispering colors that made her gasp. Inside, she was a kaleidoscope of racing, popping, bursting exclamations, full of wonder and question marks. Patterns swirled, and within every secret pocket she'd stashed a treasure, some stolen, some found. She had tried, as a little girl, to express what was within her. But it came out like marbles. Nonsense. Babbling. Disappointing even to her own ears. She'd practiced, alone in her room, but the bugs fell from her mouth, frighteningly alive, scampering over her skin and bedclothes. She flicked them away. Watched them escape under her closed door.
Words, ever unreliable, were no one's friend.
But, if she was being honest, there was another reason — a benefit. Her silence was making Mommy crazy. Poor Mommy made it all too clear, over many desperate years, how badly she wanted her to talk. She used to beg.
"Please, baby? Ma-ma? Ma-ma?"
Daddy, on the other hand, never begged or acted put out. His eyes lit up when he held her, like he was witnessing a supernova. He alone really saw her, and so she smiled for him and was rewarded with kisses and tickles.
"Okay, all finished," said the flight director.
The ground control people pushed a button and her head slid out of the giant mechanical tube. The rocket ship crashed back to Earth, where she found herself in a crater of ugliness. The blobby people emerged — one with her hand outstretched offering to take her back to Mommy, like that was some sort of reward.
"You did such a good job!"
What a lie. She hadn't done anything but come back to Earth too soon. It wasn't hard to be still, and not speaking was her natural state. She let the woman take her hand, even though she didn't want to go back to moody Mommy and another suffocating room. She'd rather explore the hospital's endless corridors. She pretended she was walking around in the intestines of a giant dragon. When it exhaled its angry flames, they'd catapult her forward into another world. The one where she belonged, where she could race through a gloomy forest with her trusted sword, screaming the call that would summon the others. Her minions would charge behind her as she led the attack. Slash, crash, grunt, and stab. Her sword would get its taste of blood.
SHE SMOOTHED DOWN the back of Hanna's hair where it had gotten rumpled during her test.
"See, not so bad. Now we'll see what the doctor says." Her tight smile forced her eye to twitch. She dabbed at the corner of it with her index finger. A terror clawed beneath her skin, making small rips in her equilibrium. Doctors' offices, medical buildings: institutions of torture. They pressed on her like a heavy slab. Hanna sat with her elbow on the chair's armrest, head on her hand, absorbed and expressionless like she became in front of the TV. Suzette glanced at the framed print that held her daughter's interest. Squares of watery color. She tried to guess, by the movement of Hanna's eyes, if she was counting the total number of squares, or collecting them in groups of similar shades. Hanna pretended to be unaware of Suzette beside her, and she read the usual rebuke in Hanna's refusal to look at her. After so many years, she'd lost track of the moments for which she was being punished.
Perhaps Hanna was still angry at her for running out of bananas. She'd slammed her fists on the table, glaring at her naked bowl of cereal. Or maybe Hanna couldn't forgive some perceived slight from the previous night, or week, or month. Hanna didn't know that Suzette had resisted bringing her in for another CT scan — 500 times the radiation of a single X-ray — but relented to Alex's wishes. Her husband's concerns remain rooted in the pragmatic insistence that something might yet be physically impeding her verbal progress. He didn't see what she did, and she could never tell him what was really wrong — that it had all been a mistake: She didn't know how to be a mother; why had that ever seemed like a good idea? So she played along. Of course she'd have Hanna tested again. Of course they needed to know if anything was physiologically awry.
She considered her daughter. They looked so much alike. Her dark, dark hair. The big brown eyes. If only she'd inherited some of Alex's fairness. She had Hanna put on a nice dress, brand-new knee socks, and Mary Janes. Suzette wore a silk shirtdress, loosely belted to show off her figure, and shoes that cost a fortune. It was silly, she knew, for both of them to dress up for a medical appointment, but she feared situations in which her mothering might be judged, and at least no one could say her child looked neglected or ill. And Suzette had so little opportunity otherwise to wear her finer clothes when all she did was stay home with Hanna. She used to dress up for Alex's office parties and loved the way his lustful eyes followed her around as she sipped wine and chatted, enjoying the rare company of other adults. But no babysitter would ever come back, and they finally gave up. Alex, considerately, made the gatherings rarer and shorter, but still. She missed the casual normalcy she once had with Fiona and Sasha and Ngozi. She never asked if Alex talked about her at work, or if they all acted as if she no longer existed.
Nervous about what the doctor would say — how he might criticize her — she patted a jumpy rhythm on Hanna's arm. Hanna pulled it away, lowering her chin as the colorful, blocky print continued to mesmerize her. Suzette held each part of her body too tightly — her crossed legs, her tense shoulders, her hands curled into fists. It made the tender part in her abdomen twist and squeal in protest and she fanned her fingers, trying to make herself relax. It was her first big outing since The Surgery, eight weeks before. They did it laparoscopically this time so the superficial part of the recovery was faster, though she'd asked the doctor to fix her horrible scar while they were there.
The misshapen canyon of a scar had always bothered her, falling in a deep, wonky six-inch diagonal on the right side of her navel. Alex insisted it was part of her beauty, her strength. A marking of survival, of the suffering she'd endured as a teenager. She didn't need any reminders of those lonely and disgusting years, of the enemy within or her own mother's deadly indifference. As it was, that first surgery at seventeen put such a fear in her that she'd put off Dr. Stefanski's recommendation for another resection until her intestines were in danger of perforating. In the beginning, the stricture only caused a bit of pain and she reduced the fiber in her diet. She'd expected her heavy-duty medication — an injectable biological drug — to eliminate the worst of her Crohn's symptoms. And it did. But as the inflammation receded, scar tissue built up around a narrowing in her intestine.
"Don't take too much!" she'd pleaded with the surgeon, as if he was about to rob her, not restore her to health.
Alex had kissed her white-knuckled hand. "It'll be fine, älskling, you'll feel so much better, and be able to eat so much more food."
Yes, reasonable assessments. If it wasn't for her inconsolable fear of losing so much small intestine that she'd lose the inalienable right to shit on a toilet like a normal person. People did it every day — lived with ileostomies and bags attached to their abdomens. But she couldn't. Couldn't. The very thought of it made her start shaking her head until Hanna twitched, glancing at her with a soured frown as if she was already stinking up the room.
Suzette got herself back under control, at least so far as her daughter would notice. But her dark mind played on, resistant to more-comforting distractions in the weeks since her surgery.
What if she got another fistula?
That was the thing that haunted her every day since she agreed to schedule the procedure. The last time, it developed about six weeks after her emergency resection. She'd woken up one morning feeling as if she was sleeping on a brick, but the mass had been in her own belly, a pool of waste that needed to be drained. It had been eight weeks since The Surgery, so maybe the danger had lessened. Alex said his usual "one day at a time" platitudes. Dr. Stefanski said no no, just keep doing your injections, your inflammation markers are low. But in her head the oozing puss and shit waited in the wings, and what if Alex had to play the role her mother played, nursemaid, replacing the soiled packing in a wound that wouldn't heal —
A quick knuckle rap on the exam room door dispelled her thoughts. Sometimes the presence of a doctor only made her trauma worse, but this one was here for Hanna, not her. And she was here as a good mother, a concerned mother, unlike her own. She pressed her palm against her tingling abdomen and made herself smile as the new doctor gusted in, grayer than the last one. His eyebrows needed a trim and Suzette struggled to maintain eye contact with him with his nose hairs on such display.
"Mrs. Jensen." He shook her hand.
He pronounced her name as everyone did, incorrectly. It didn't bother her as much as it did Swedish-born Alex, who, after nineteen years in the United States, still couldn't accept that Americans would never make a J sound like a Y. The doctor sat on the rolling stool and brought Hanna's records up on the computer.
"No changes from the scan she had ... When was it? Two and a half years ago? No abnormalities of the skull, jaw, throat, mouth ... upon examination or on the scan. So that's good, right? Hanna's a healthy girl." He smiled at Hanna's turned-away head.
"So ... There's no ...?" She tried not to sound as disappointed as she felt. "She should be finishing first grade and we can't even send her to school, not if she doesn't speak. We don't feel like she needs a special class — she's smart, I homeschool her and she's very smart. She can read, do math —"
"Mrs. Jensen —"
"But it won't be good for her — it's not good for her, to be so isolated. She doesn't have friends, won't interact with her peers. We've tried to be supportive, encouraging. There has to be something we can do, something to help her ..."
"I know an excellent speech language pathologist, if Hanna is having trouble —"
"We've tried speech pathologists."
"— she can be tested for any number of things. Verbal apraxia, semantic pragmatic language disorder ..." He scrolled through her online chart, looking for something. "Maybe auditory processing disorder, though she presents atypically for that. Has she had any of these tests?"
"We've tested her for everything. Her hearing's fine, no muscle weakness, no cognitive problems. I've lost track of all the tests, but she takes them, seems to think they're fun — but she won't say a word."
"Won't?" The doctor turned to face Suzette.
"Won't. Can't. I don't know. That's ... We're trying to find out."
Suzette squirmed as the doctor flicked his overeducated attention between the two of them. She knew what he was seeing: the daughter, lost in her own head; the mother, a carefully groomed, but wound-up mess.
"You say she can read and write? Can you communicate with her that way?"
"She'll write out answers in her workbooks, she doesn't seem to mind that. We know she understands. But when we've asked her to write what she's thinking or wants — any type of actual communication ... No, she won't speak to us that way." Her interlocked fingers started hurting and she glanced down at them, a little surprised by how forcefully she'd been twisting them. She took hold of her purse strap and started strangling it instead. "She can make noises — so we know, maybe, she could make other sounds. She can grunt. And squeal. Hum little songs."
"If it's a matter of her refusing ... Won't requires a different type of doctor than can't."
Suzette felt her face reddening, as if her hands had moved to her throat, squeezing the life from her. "I — we — don't know what to do. We can't go on like this." She gasped for air.
The doctor wove his fingers together and gave her a sympathetic, if lopsided, smile. "Behavioral difficulties can be just as difficult to manage as physical ones, maybe more so."
She nodded. "I always wonder ... Am I doing something wrong?"
"It causes strain in a family, I understand. Perhaps the next thing to try ... I could recommend a pediatric psychologist. I wouldn't recommend a psychiatrist, not until she has a diagnosis. In this age, they're so quick to write prescriptions, and maybe this is something you can work through."
"Yes, I'd prefer that, thank you."
"I'll send a referral through your insurance company ..." He turned back to the computer.
Suzette worked the kinks out of her purse strap, feeling slightly dizzy with relief. She tucked a piece of Hanna's hair behind her ear.
"I try to avoid toxic things," she said to the doctor's slouched back. "Not that all medication is toxic, but like you said, society's so quick to find a pill for something, never mind the side effects. But if it's not a disability ... An organic solution, that sounds good." She turned to Hanna. "We're going to work this out. Find someone you might talk to."
Hanna took a swat at Suzette's fussing hand and curled her lip in a snarl. Suzette shot her a warning glare, then peeked at the doctor to make sure he hadn't seen.
Hanna bolted to her feet, crossed her arms, and stood by the door.
"In a minute, we're almost finished." Suzette made her voice sound endlessly patient.
Spinning back around on his stool, the doctor chuckled. "I don't blame you one bit, young lady, cooped up at the doctor's on a sunny day." Suzette stood as he did. "The referral will probably take a few days, then you can schedule something directly with Dr. Yamamoto. She's a developmental child psychologist and has a great way with kids, very established. And hopefully Hanna will connect with her. They'll print out all the information when you check out."
"Thank you so much."
"She might even be able to recommend some schools for you."
"Perfect." She looked over at her daughter, not surprised to see the angry scowl on her face. Through bad behavior, Hanna had made herself unwelcome at three preschools and two kindergartens. Suzette had come to believe that their mother-daughter relationship would improve only when they had some distance — when Hanna went off to school. And Suzette wanted their relationship to improve. She was tired of yelling "Hanna, stop!" and maybe she shouldn't yell, but there were endless reasons — small and large — why she'd needed to. Plucking all the leaves off the houseplants. Pulling on every loose thread, no matter what it unraveled. Mixing a cocktail of orange juice and nail polish remover. Throwing balls against the glass wall of their house. Staring at her and refusing to blink or budge. Hurling sharpened pencils like darts across the room. Hanna had creative ways to amuse herself, and most of them were intolerable.
Since the doctor confirmed there was nothing physically wrong, then, for the sake of her own health and sanity, it was time to convince Alex that they needed to find a school for Hanna. Maybe someone else would succeed where she hadn't in disciplining the girl. She couldn't phrase it to him as a desperate need for her own time and space; she couldn't make it all about herself. Hanna behaved quite lovingly in his presence, and often he saw silliness where she saw mischief, and her more-provocative antics he ascribed to intelligence. He remained blind to his own hypocrisy, all the things he explained away as normal while exulting her precocity. So that would be her argument: Gifted Hanna was bored; she needed more stimulation than what she was getting at home.
One way or another, she wouldn't let Hanna continue to derail her life.
Excerpted from "Baby Teeth"
Copyright © 2018 Zoje Stage.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Debut novel, Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage is a disturbing study in family dynamics when faced with an unpredictable mental illness. Suzette is a chronically ill mother doing her best to raise her mute, but brilliant, seven year old daughter Hanna. With the face of an angel, no one but Suzette realizes how disturbing Hanna’s behavior can truly become. Not even the schools she’s been expelled from, or even the other children she’s hurt. Especially not Hanna’s clueless father Alex, who explains away every incident Hanna has been responsible for. But as Hanna’s calculated tricks get more treacherous and Suzette’s sanity slips day by day, will Alex finally realize there’s something seriously wrong with Hanna, before it’s too late? What I really liked about this novel is how the author juggles all the emotions of every family member who is struggling in this bad situation. The reader slips in and out of sympathy for everyone involved, even as you fear that Hanna’s behavior will turn deadly before her parents will be able to find a diagnosis and treatment for Hanna. You slip in and out of fear, empathy, and anger at Suzette’s obvious frustration, missteps, and guilt. You long for her to assert herself more where her daughter and husband are concerned and also let go of guilt over a situation she has very little control over. You want to shake the rose colored glasses from Alex’s face, hoping he’ll see the problems sooner. And you long to hug and kiss Hanna until you realize just how profoundly messed up the child really is. The author was able to, despite everything, cause you to sympathize with Hanna’s point of view. I was truly creeped out by the whole tale while at the same time rooting for a happy solution for everyone involved. The writing style of personal third-person points-of-view was very effective and lent a broader view of events than dueling first-person view points, that at times leave me feeling like I might be missing some aspect you can’t get when the story is only being told from one person’s standpoint. While not a fan of stories in this genre, I thought this was masterfully done, keeping the story both scary but very human and relatable.
I love these kinds of books...fiction, where the child is scary, because that's the creepiest of all. So well written and absolutely enthralling!
This book was one of the most disturbing books I've read lately. Each family member was locked in their own misery. The mother was so wishy washy about her parenting skills, the dad was totally oblivious about everything, and Hannah was pure evil. Loved the book. I couldn't put it down.
I think this book brings up these questions: Are all women meant to be a mother? Do people seriously think about the day-to-day routine, work, and attention a child will need before they decide to add a child to their life? Can a person with a chronic illness give themselves the attention they need in addition to what a child needs? Can a woman who did not get the mothering she needed give her child what the child needs? I wonnder how different the child would have been if she had gotten the love and attention she needed? The book held my interest. I have never read a book like this where the mother shares her true feelings. Highly recommend.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage is a psychological thriller. This will be the book that everyone is talking about! It is so very disturbing and will definitely creep you out. I read this book in small doses. It's a lot to digest all at once. An evil, master mind in a very tiny package. That is the only way I can describe little Hanna. Hanna wants her Daddy all to herself and she will go above and beyond to make that happen. Suzette, Hanna's mother is the prime target or shall I say victim in the story. Alex, Hanna's father is blind to Hanna's cruel behaviors and tricks. Hanna is unlike any child I have ever met. She is down right evil. This is one majorly dysfunctional family. With this being Zoje Stage's debut book, I can't wait to read the next. There are very few authors that can write a story that can freak me out like this one. This book will stay with you long after you finish it.
Omg this book will give you chills. The little girl in this book reminds me of the girl in the movie The Bad Seed
This story is so difficult to read that it was almost physically painful. It's well written and clever but the subject matter was borderline unbearable. I was so angry and horrified that I almost stopped reading about half way through. I wasn’t sure I could take any more, or that I wanted to force myself to continue. I did persist until the end and I’m glad that I did because it did get better. It was never a comfortable or optimistic read but it did turn out to be not completely awful. I was totally aghast at the parent’s behavior. How could they just let this continue and escalate to such an absolute insane degree. I understand that people always want to think the best of their children may have a hard time believing the worst about them but it was so blatantly obvious that this kid was seriously mentally ill and yet they continued to either ignore the problem (the father) or minimize the psychotic behavior (the mother.) If I were in this situation I would have nanny cams throughout the house so there would be a record to show to the husband, the police, the doctors and the mental health professionals that were so badly needed . I don’t have children because I don’t really like them (I'm not hateful or anything I just like quiet and am a germaphobe!) and I have to say that Baby Teeth is a great illustration of why kids creep me out. Who knows what terrors they are thinking about and planning? What if your kid is a psychopath in the making? There’s a good reason that so many horror movies feature creepy children. If you need a new horror to add to your nightmares meet Hanna. You won't forget her. Thank you St. Martin's Press for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
4.5 stars Wow, Baby Teeth is one of the darkest, creepiest horror books that I’ve read in a long time. It was a fascinating story, in a shocking-horror-type of way. I couldn’t put the book down, and read it in one sitting. By all outward appearances, Suzette and Alex had it all. They were financially comfortable, had a loving, passionate relationship, and a beautiful daughter. But, appearances can be deceiving. Seven-year-old Hanna was cunning. She knew how to get her way, whether she was at home, in school or just out with Suzette, her mother. Hanna was sweet and loving when she wanted to be. With her mother, however, Hanna was cold, calculating and manipulative. Hanna wanted her father for herself and was determined to do whatever was necessary to make that happen. Suzette loved her daughter and wanted only the best for her. And, even though Hanna’s hostile behavior towards her, hurt, she showered Hanna with love. Suzette made mistakes along the way but sincerely tried to give Hanna a better childhood than she had for herself. Alex was oblivious to Hanna’s manipulations. He couldn’t believe that his sweet daughter was capable of the evil deeds being reported to him. Suzette’s life became a hellish power-struggle with her daughter, even dangerous, whenever her husband was not in sight. Kudos to the author for creating such an unforgettable debut novel. Whether you like the book or not, it’s bound to stir up strong emotions. If you can handle reading about twisted minds, even in a child, then this book might be for you. I rated this book down from 5 stars to 4.5, because Hanna’s behavior to me, seemed too advanced for her age. Thank you, St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my advanced review copy.
Repetitive emotional torment, expressed over and over and over again and ultimately go no where. I was hoping for a "reveal" that never came. This book reminded me to get a library card, instead of risking my money on a college level writing, at best. A humor/horror mix that did not work.
Fascinating. I couldn't put it down.
I couldn’t put this book down! My boyfriend would beg for my attention because I became so consumed within this story! Definitely worth the buy!
Baby Teeth certainly caught me surprise. Not so much the plot or characters, which was a slow but steady plan of attacks from the perspective of a 7-year-old girl Hanna to kill her mother, whom Hanna sees as a threat to her relationship with Daddy. What really hooked me was the prose--particularly Hanna's chapters, where the mind of a child comes alive with creative wordplay and visual prose. It was a delight to watch the words come together in such playful fashion. The locale, Pittsburgh, also was a strong point. A perfect setting, well-crafted too. And the characters--Daddy Alex, Mommy Suzette, and Hanna the child--were wonderfully real. However, and this was a big however... One thing that niggled at me was Hanna's muteness and how not a single institution or school who worked with her ever mentioned sign language as a communication option. In today's day and age, it's commonplace for parents and all schools to have a sign interpreter, so it was a little plot flaw that bugged me, but not enough to take away any stars. Lastly, and I'm trying not to leave a spoiler, but I will say the ending frustrated me, leaving the reader completely suspended without a closing, but done with a typical horror-style open-endedness. We don't get closure, we don't know anything, really. But it's a borderline horror book (aren't all murderous kid books on the horror scale?), so I'll accept it. If you love creepy kids (not in real life, but in fiction, hehe), you'll enjoy Baby Teeth.
WOW WOW WOW! Crazy good, original story. A parents worst nightmare come to fruition in this haunting book! The points of view from each character were amazing. I can't even imagine what I would do and that is just one awesome thing about this story. You can't help but think about what you would do if you were in this situation with your child and husband. Perception is everything! Very original, and definitely terrifying in its own crazy way.
Zoje Stage’s debut novel, Baby Teeth, has received very polarized reviews from both readers and critics. The novel tells the story of a young family struggling to parent a child who seems to be extremely disturbed, if not downright evil. As the book opens, 9-year-old Hanna is receiving an MRI, a last-ditch attempt by her parents to see if her mutism has a physiological basis. The news is received with both relief and dismay by her mother, Suzette, who was hoping that her daughter would be able to receive a clear diagnosis and mode of treatment. When it appears that Hanna’s complete lack of verbal or written communication is selective, it is up to Suzette to examine her own contribution to her child’s condition. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Suzette and Hanna, and the reader is privy to the fact that Hanna harbors some violent designs against her mother. Suzette is desperate to provide her daughter with everything she was deprived of as a child and remains obsessed with appearances, even as her fears and resentments grow. As Hanna’s attacks on Suzette escalate, Suzette attempts to convince her husband that something is seriously wrong with the girl. She even starts to retaliate against Hanna, increasingly treating her like an adult nemesis. Alex (the stereotypical clueless father) is reluctant to believe that Hanna is anything but the sweet little girl that he has witnessed. As he coddles and spoils her, her mother sneers and taunts her. Hanna begins to plot a way to “remove” Suzette from their family so she can be alone with Alex. Since the book has a small cast of characters, Stage creates a claustrophobic feeling that adds to the foreboding tone. Is Hanna’s behavior a result of a congenital psychological disorder, or caused by her parent’s failed efforts at raising her? Do we erroneously assume that love is deserved unconditionally between parents and children and vice versa? There really is no sympathetic character for the reader to side with in the book, and the result can be discomforting. Much of the controversy about Baby Teeth involves the perceived sexualization of a child, presented in an excessive and overt manner. Stage was obviously very inspired by the Freudian concept of the Oedipal Complex when composing this novel. Those readers put off by the descriptions of this element should know that Hanna’s drive is presented as more of a bid for her father’s absolute attention rather than a literal desire for consummation. This book is not for everyone, and most readers will know pretty quickly if Baby Teeth is a selection they can tolerate or would choose to add to their DNF pile.
Seven-year-old Hanna doesn’t not have much to say. Nothing, actually. Ever. While she seems to otherwise develop normally, she can’t—or won’t—talk. Her parents, Suzette and Alex, subject her to test after test to find out why. But mutism isn’t Hanna’s only problem, not even her biggest. She wants her father all to herself, even if that means getting rid of Suzette. Is there such a thing as evil? Demons? Witches? After spending time with Hanna, those are the questions most will be asking! Baby Teeth is written using alternate point of view of Suzette and Hanna. Suzette--smart, likeable, hardworking, loves Hanna despite her behavioral problems, and works hard to be a good mother—sometimes lets her frustration and get the better of her. Hanna--smart and diabolical--still has the emotional, intellectual, and physical limitations of a seven-year-old, manifested in the sometimes-childlike simplicity of her plotting and beliefs in spells and curses. Her evil plans often fail the way one would expect when made by a seven-year-old, adding a layer of childlike inculpability. Even in the failed plans Hanna’s intent is clear, and Suzette is caught between Hanna’s wrath and her husband, who is reluctant to believe his beautiful daughter is capable of such things.
This book was such a wild ride! Hanna was so disturbing. I was actually scared when I read about the creepy things she would do. She tortured her mother in ways that weren’t always obvious. It’s hard to believe that a child could think up these ways to harm their parents. I can’t imagine going through something like that. I had no idea how this book was going to end. It wasn’t a clear cut story where you know in general what will happen (for example in romances where the couple either gets together or not, or a mystery where the detective will find the killer). I didn’t know if everyone was going to die or live or some other unknown solution! I’ll admit I was surprised at the ending. One strange thing about this book is that it has two different names. It is called Baby Teeth in North America, but it is called Bad Apple in the UK. I didn’t really understand why it is called Baby Teeth, but I can understand the Bad Apple reference, since Hanna really is a bad apple. If anyone knows the reasoning behind the different names I’d love to know! I would love to see this story continued in a sequel! I highly recommend this book for a creepy thrilling read. I received a copy of this book from the publisher on NetGalley.
Believe every reaction you have seen because Baby Teeth is one effed-up story. Hanna's thoughts about her mother are just plain disturbing and seemingly justify the fear Suzette feels when alone with her daughter. Plus, Hanna's manipulation of her father is sickening. It would be easy to describe Baby Teeth as the story of a child sociopath. However, to do so leaves out key elements of the story which not only add depth but make you realize that not all is black and white in the Jensen household. It is as if Ms. Stage took Oprah's long-ago advice of putting yourself and your relationship with your significant other ahead of that of your children and started conjuring various scenarios of how that might work. What she put to paper is inventive if disturbing with no clear right or wrong answer to any situation. Therein lies all of the tension and drama of the story, for it is not just about Hanna's proclivity for manipulation and violence but also the family dynamics wherein the primary caregiver is extremely sick most of the time. I envision book clubs having a field day with the Jensens' marriage. There is so much within Baby Teeth to discuss and no easy answers that would allow all readers to come to the same conclusions. In fact, I suspect Ms. Stage leaves certain parts deliberately vague specifically to prod discussions. There are some very difficult scenes within the story that may be a trigger for some readers, so one should not open the novel unless prepared to be thoroughly shocked at everyone's behavior at some point in time. For all that though, I was mesmerized by Hanna and Suzette as they battled for Alex's affection. My sympathies varied depending on the scene, and just when I thought I was committed to one particular character, something would happen that would make me question my choice. It is a fascinating study of relationships, sociopathy, and psychology that is akin to watching the train wreck through your fingertips. You cannot look away from the horror before you no matter how much you think you desire it until you resign yourself to having a macabre curiosity and sit back to enjoy the ride.
Kept me turning the page
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book kept me on my toes. The alternating points of view between Suzette and Hanna kept the book interesting. Hanna's POV was terrifying at times! If you're looking for a quick read that will keep you guessing, this book is for you!
You're in for a wild ride! The gist of this story is extraordinary, and the underlying ideas could have made for a really powerful story ... however, the writing style left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm all for writing an illness into a story to get awareness or to make it feel more real and to give it something you can sink your teeth into as you read, but I really did not need the candid details over and over of what bodily functions occurred. The story has a bite to it and is filled with torment, but be prepared to be grossed out a bit as well. Suzette Jensen has suffered through illness the majority of her life, but she's trudged along taking joy when she can and settling into life. She's married to the man of her dreams, loved her work, and when she became pregnant was a bit hesitant of how her body might react to it, but was thrilled to see the joy this baby brought to her husband's face. Now, seven years later, she's having second thoughts. Her daughter Hanna has never spoken even though she's brilliant and can read and write without a problem. She misbehaves when it suits her, making it impossible to find a school that will keep her enrolled. All that Suzette wants is for a semblance of life to go back to what it was before when she enjoyed getting out of the house and working ... but Hanna has other ideas, and as she progressively gets worse and the hatred in her eyes increases, she starts to fear for her life! Alex Jensen adores his daughter. She's the ray of sunshine in his life before he leaves for work and a delight to tuck into bed when he gets home. Reading together is one of their favorite past times. He knows she has a mind of her own and gives his wife a bit of a hard time, but he never in a million years believes she does the things that Suzette says she does. She's his little angel. His wife is just tired and exaggerating everything ... isn't she?
Baby Teeth is a book written from the viewpoint of a small child named Hanna who is quite disturbed. She sets about to terrorize her mother, thinking that her mother is evil and should not be allowed to be in charge of her. She fools her parents into thinking that she cannot understand words or speak, when in actuality she understands very well what they are saying and she uses their words against them. She is put into a preschool program in the hopes that she will begin to speak and make progress at home. Instead, she terrorizes the other children and becomes a danger to others. The author was able to take me into the scary mind of a child that had serious psychological issues that had not been addressed for a long time and had been left untended until they caused serious issues in the lives of those the child came in contact with. This was a well written story that made my skin crawl at times with horror at the idea of how a child could come up with some of the ideas this child came up with. It was very thought provoking.
I couldn’t put it down. It was a brutally honest novel and gave tremendous insight to a very real issue. I’ve read a few reviews condemning it for painting a child in such a negative or “evil” manner but the truth is just because you refuse to accept the idea doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality. There is very raw human emotion to it which some people can take offense to but I enjoyed it and found myself both sympathetic and empathic for a very complicated situation from the perspective of all 3 main characters. Give it an opened minded chance.
I loved this book while I was reading it. It kept me engaged and excited to pick it up. The ending left me wanting more. I needed it to be more complicated than it was. After finishing it, I’m a little disappointed.
'Bad Apple' (also released under the title 'Baby Teeth' in the U.S.) is writer and 2012 Emerging Storytellers Fellow Zoje Stage's debut novel. Touted as being a cross between 'We Need To Talk About Kevin', 'Gone Girl' and 'The Omen', this is one of the most chilling, disturbing and original idea's for a crime thriller I have had the pleasure to read in the past year, and I loved every single second of it! We are introduced to the Jensen family - Alex, Suzette and their daughter Hanna. On the outside they appear to be the perfect family, but all is not as it seems. Both mother and daughter have entered into a form of psychological warfare over Alex's affection and attention. Hanna is seven-years-old and hasn't uttered a single word (she brings a whole new meaning to silent but deadly!) and is voluntarily mute. She is highly intelligent, devious, calculating and manipulative. When she eventually does speak it is not what was expected, and her mother becomes even more afraid of her. The gulf between both parents widens, as Alex believes his daughter to be an angel, and as Hanna wants her daddy all to herself what exactly is she willing to do to achieve her aim? I found myself immersed in the story from very early on, this is definitely one of those reads where it's easy to just keep going, and before too long you've reached the conclusion. This story uses the concept of nature vs nurture in the context of the story to create thought-provoking questions in the readers mind. A dark and uncomfortable tale featuring a sociopathic child - what more could you want! I am always wary when considering a book that has been surrounded by intense hype before its release, but due to the unique story I couldn't resist, and I am pleased I made the correct choice because this really lives up to the hype. Truly unnerving and unputdownable, I know that this will not be for everyone, but many seasoned thriller readers will appreciate this original tale just as I did. Many thanks to Bantam Press for an ARC. I was not required to post a review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.