Thursday, April 1, 2021

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo


Sometimes when I'm reading a book, I imagine the characters with real people, but this was a book I pictured in animation because it has the sort of phantasmagorical surrealism that can only really be achieved in the abstract. WHAT BIG TEETH has mixed reviews because it is a densely stylistic book that copies the moody, brooding atmosphere of 1970s Gothic melodramas and exploitation horror films, and the two books I can really think of that are like this book that have been published (somewhat) recently are Tanith Lee's DARK DANCE and Annette Curtis Klause's BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE.

The less you know about this book going in, the better. All you know from the beginning is that Eleanor is a teenage girl who is coming home from Catholic boarding school under troubling circumstances. Her family is an Addams family-esque cast of horrors, only considerably less lovable, and tying them all together is a backstory of tragedy and ruin and cyclical violence that is about to repeat...

Unless Eleanor can do something.

For like 95% of this story, I waffled between a 4 and a 5 because the prose is wonderful, the style is evocative, and it just really, really captures the mood of a Gothic-- claustrophobic, darkly enchanting, and even a little bit romantic-- which not all authors can do. This is my first book by Rose Szabo and I can guarantee you it won't be the last; I will read anything they put out there with a sophisticated debut like this. The reason I ultimately settled on a 4 was because it just got a little *too weird* and I had a lot of questions about Eleanor's family's origins that weren't really resolved to my satisfaction. I guess after sitting with a book for almost 400 pages, I wanted concrete answers and closure, and I didn't really get that here, even if the journey was still worth it because getting there was so fun.

That said, this is one of those YA that I think is best for older teens. I would compare it to Elana K. Arnold's DAMSEL in terms of the mature themes and upsetting content. In some ways, I almost feel like this would have been better if it were marketed towards adults, as I feel like the sophistication of the writing and the convoluted story might be lost on some younger readers. But for adults who love YA and Gothics, or enjoy the feeling of getting sucked into a dark story, I think this will be a hit.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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