Monday, July 30, 2018

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Scientists just came up with a new, effective form of birth control: this book. Not sure if you want kids? Pick up BABY TEETH and recoil in horror from the Queen of Devil-spawns herself. Reading this book is like watching a horror movie and screaming, "Don't go in there!" at the idiotic teenage scream queen as she traipses into the room with the killer. But what if the teenage scream queen is a bougie mom with Crohn's disease? And what if the room with the killer is her own child's nursery?

You see the problem here.

I don't recall the last time I read a book that frustrated me so much. On the one hand, BABY TEETH was excellently plotted, and, speaking as someone who has studied and received a degree in psychology, actually takes the time to research the material and not write a contrived mess of outdated fake news a la mode. Sociopathy and conduct disorder are often portrayed in ridiculous ways in media, but most of the information in this book is correct. Sociopaths often manifest their symptoms at a young age, in something called "conduct disorder," and can take perceived slights - minor things that other people wouldn't blink at - and stew over them, growing violently angry.

On the other hand, using a mental disorder as fodder for a thriller is a rather tired trope. What makes it interesting is that, in this case, it is the child who is causing the problems. Hanna, the fledgling sociopath, who wants to grow up to marry her Daddy and is more than willing to make Mommy go away. It's disgustingly Freudian, and Hanna's narrative made me so uncomfortable, because she was such a slimy, unpleasant character. It was almost unrealistic, how unlikable this character was. To one-up this witch-with-a-b in terms of how evil she was, you would probably have to come up with a character called Dr. Fluffykittens-Stomper McMurderNazi. Every time I thought to myself, "Oh my God, it can't possibly get any worse" - it got worse. Because of course it did.

The most frustrating character in this book, though, is probably the father, who coddles and enables his daughter, even as she's actively putting his wife through hell. He reminded blithely ignorant of his wife's suffering, even going so far as to blame her for it in some instances or do the adult male equivalent of sticking his fingers into his ears and saying, "La la la la la la." Eventually, he wises up, but only at the last freaking possible moment. If this were a horror movie, he'd totally be the one going, "Hey! Those dark, blood-soaked stairs over there! Let's split up and check them out alone!" I get wanting to love your kid and giving them the benefit of the doubt, but when you catch them red-handed, and it's blood, and not paint, on their hands, it's time to seek outside assistance.

I read BABY TEETH until the very end, and I - and probably you - was relieved to find out that the ending wasn't horrific as it could have been. I was bracing myself for a blood bath and got a blood bird pond instead. Not pleasant, but not the nightmare fuel I was expecting, in the vein of LET'S GO PLAY AT THE ADAMS' or BAD SEED. They're probably going to make a movie of this and I'm not going to see it, because children are scary, and if I wanted to see a bunch of demon children acting out, I'll park myself by the registers of any toy store on Christmas Eve and watch all hell break loose.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars


  1. So glad there was someone else who was able to read this book from a psychological pov. I've read many reviews on this from people saying it's absolutely unrealistic for any child of her age to be that way, but as you pointed out, sociopathy and conduct disorder more often than not appear in early age. Although I think I could've done without the heavy-handed Electra Complex.

  2. OMG, the Electra Complex angle made me sooo uncomfortable! But I thought the book seemed well-researched. What did you think?


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