Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

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The thing about thrillers is that they’re not about characters, or even plot, but how it all comes together in the reading experience. A thriller needs to shock and surprise in order to be successful. It needs to be unputdownable. The more thrillers I read, the harder this is to achieve – like some sort of literary high, my tolerance for twists has risen. I read The Girl on the Train. It was okay. I read The Woman in the Window. It was okay. Still, I wait to be thrilled.

Baby Teeth doesn’t try to be one of those books but because it’s a dark thriller, I anticipate it will be compared to them. It’s different, though – I appreciate the uniqueness of its story and the characters, its lack of a mysterious dead woman driving the plot. Most of all, I admit that once I got into the meat of the story, I had trouble putting it down.

The plot: a beautiful couple has a child, Hanna, who is non-verbal and keeps getting kicked out of schools. Suzette, a stay at home mother, has seen her child’s dark side, but the father, Alex, only sees her as a sweet eight year old girl. The story alternates between Suzette’s and Hanna’s perspectives. As the story builds, Hanna takes on the persona of a witch, and starts to plan her mother’s demise. The character’s darkness rises and it drew me in, unable to look away as the story got more and more twisted.

Then, it falls flat. I’m going to talk about the ending of the book, so stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.

So, I was at the point of Baby Teeth where I couldn’t put it down: what was this crazy kid going to do next? Was Suzette going to have a breakdown and kill her own daughter? (You know the book is twisted because I rooting for that scenario.)

But, then: there was no twist. The book just sort of ends, everyone alive and Hanna shipped away to a mental institution, scheming that one day she’ll get out and get to kill her mother. I think Stage was possibly setting up for a sequel, but I was left feeling let down . For that, I have to say I was disappointed by Baby Teeth, but only because I enjoyed reading it so much and was hoping for the ending to do something daring – instead, it ended by playing it safe, which is a terrible shame for such a weird, dark book.

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