Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Rating: 2/5. Good enough writing, just not my jam.
Received from Netgally in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This review is for the first 40% only; I decided to DNF after that. I’ll be talking about what I did read, and my general thoughts on it.
This is a bit of a weird one for me. Uncomfortable to read, even. I know that this is an entirely personal thing, since it seems that a lot of people really got into this — that’s cool. Just wasn’t for me. I’m still going to write as fairly as I can about it, of course.
First thing’s first for me — the technical side of the writing seemed perfectly fine, for the most part. (I’ll go into the most part bit a little more in a minute.) It was readable, comfortably so, and I don’t recall hitting any major ‘brain stalls’ in general, where I would need to reread sections to know what I was seeing. For the most part.
Where I started getting stuck were Hanna’s sections — not because they weren’t as decently written, technically, as the rest of the chunk that I read, but because I found it so hard to suspend disbelief for the bulk of her internal monologues. The issue for me was that I just…found it so difficult to believe that a seven-year-old girl would have access to some of the vocabulary and knowledge that she did, even if she does have essentially free internet access from Alex’s computer. It contrasted so jarringly with her childishness (her ‘innocent’ immaturity did feel natural and normal, from what I read, for the most part) that I ended up both struggling and racing to get through her PoVs and back to Suzette’s.
I have to point out that I was so excited that it might be a case of Hanna somehow being possessed by the spirit of a witch, causing her acting-out to amp up dangerously, which would cause Suzette some sort of internal struggle of having to choose to save a child that has been so much trouble for her. . .perhaps that’s a bit on the dark side, but it would’ve held my interest like nobody’s business. (Especially if a HEA was involved.)
As it was, though. . .this was uncomfortable for me, and not because of the whole ‘creepy child’ thing. As someone who isn’t neurotypical themself, a lot of Hanna’s ‘weird’ actions…didn’t seem all that weird to me. It’s mind-boggling that, when it was clear she wasn’t learning to communicate verbally at the age other children would, Alex and Suzette didn’t learn and teach her ASL. Instead, Hanna was subjected to mountains of tests and stresses and knowing full well that her mother wasn’t all too keen about this development in her young life, whether she really does love her or not. (Alex, while all but useless for certain parts of her development, at least doesn’t try to act like something’s wrong with her. He accepts her.) Why on earth didn’t they try ASL with her before all of that?
I honestly don’t know if it’s addressed later on in the book, but it’s something I just can’t get over. The refusal to accept Hanna at face value and adapt how they communicate with her, instead of trying to force her into doing something she clearly isn’t comfortable with. Suzette’s inability to see past her own image and desperate need to present as a Perfect Wife & Mother Combo, despite how disastrous it is for both her and her daughter. Alex’s aloofness when it comes to Hanna’s misbehaviour, choosing to believe what he sees and not what his wife tells him happens when he’s not around. The option of Alex staying home and Suzette working never really coming up seriously, to give her time away from the home life that’s destroying her.
And I know that so much of that is very much a part of the story, but there’s just so many pieces that could so easily slot into place and change the entire path of the story that realistically should’ve happened…that didn’t. Like the ASL thing. Like Suzette simply choosing healthier options of accepting her daughter as she is, rather than trying to change her to fit society’s faulty standards.
For all that, though, the technical side of the writing was quite good, as aforementioned. I’d be keen on reading something that this author writes in the future, and would be more than willing to give her stories another go.
(Also — that cover! That title! I love them both. They’re evocative and totally fit the story.)