(Baby Teeth is the US title of this book, it’s called Bad Apple in the UK.)
I received a free copy of this book from Netgally in exchange for an honest review.
Star rating: ★★★★✰
Zoje Stage’s debut novel Baby Teeth is a disturbingly entertaining look at being a mother to a problem child.
Suzette wants to be a loving mother to her daughter Hanna. She wants nothing more than to have a happy and functional family.
But Hanna has other ideas.
Hanna wants a happy family too, but she doesn’t want Suzette to be part of it. She wants it to be just her and her father, Alex, and Suzette is in the way.
The more Hanna tries to eliminate her mother, the more Suzette feels out of control. Alex doesn’t believe her, he sees Hanna as his little angel and refuses to acknowledge that something is wrong. But as Hanna’s behaviour escalates, Suzette needs to convince him that maybe their home isn’t the best place for Hanna.
So a quick side note before I get into this review: I’m not a big fan of kids. I started reading this all ready to hate Hanna for being a little brat. And that’s definitely how it started out. She flushes Suzette’s diamond earrings down the toilet, she shits on the floor making the babysitter clean it up, and she punches another child in the supermarket. Definitely a little brat.
But then Zoje Stage does something amazing. She makes you feel for Hanna. She writes from Hanna’s perspective and lets us into why Hanna acts the way she does. She wants to be included and doesn’t understand when her parents do things that don’t include her. It’s hard not to feel for her. Hanna doesn’t speak so she can’t explain any of this to her parents.
But then, of course, she does something so sadistic, like tamper with Suzette’s medication, that you go back to thinking she’s a psychopath. She makes it clear that she’s choosing not to speak rather than not being able to. You go back and forth between sympathy and horror at Hanna’s actions and I have to admit there were some parts when I was a little impressed at her ingenuity (don’t judge me).
Suzette is interesting as well. She has some mother-issues of her own and is trying her best to give her child the love she felt her mother didn’t give her. She’s also struggling with her health, which gives the book some extremely uncomfortable scenes where she describes her surgeries and fistulas resulting from them.
You feel for her and it’s impossible not to imagine how difficult her situation is. To have a child that you know loathes you, a husband that doesn’t believe you, and a fear for your life when your daughter’s actions turn dangerous can only be torturous.
I loved Baby Teeth more than I probably should have. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they didn’t enjoy the disturbing nature of Hanna’s behaviour, but it’s what made me want to keep reading. She’s such an interesting character, nothing like any other book I’ve read before. I’ve heard it being likened to We Need to Talk About Kevin, so that’s definitely going on my TBR list.
If you’re a fan of unusual kids, a layered plot, and some visceral imagery then you should definitely give Baby Teeth a read.
Baby Teeth is available from St Martin’s Press on 17th July 2018 in the US, and as Bad Apple from Transworld in August 2018