Baby Teeth, a Novel by Zoje Stage
Baby Teeth An Overview
Baby Teeth is the debut novel by Zoje Stage. St. Martin's Press has pulled out all the stops on their summer novel, promoting it on social media and building it up through online and mail postings. As part of that media marketing, select readers were given the opportunity to read an advance copy of the book. The blurb for the book reads:
She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.
She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained homeschooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day.— Zoje Stage
What makes a book good?
There are several parts to making a novel good. First, is believable characters. This is one of the areas where Stage fell short. Hanna is purely evil with no purpose to her evilness, her mom Suzzette is evil, and weak, with no redeemable qualities. The father Alex is also purely a negative character with no redeemable qualities. Making each of the characters appear flat. They aren't well developed and they aren't likable. Throughout the story it is hard if not impossible to root for anyone.
Theme is another element of a good story. A book should mean something, or at least make you think about something in a new way. Yet, this book doesn't do that. It is full of horrifying events, but it is done in such a way to make the reader feel horrified, you don't come away thinking about the topic of child mental illness in another way, you simply feel disgusted reading it.
A satisfying ending, is another requirement for a good book. You don't have to have a happily ever after, but the ending has to be satisfactory, the reader should believe that the ending is reasonable, even if it makes them sad. Again Stage fell short. The book simply ends, it is as though Stage just stopped writing.
Skog fell asleep with one soft hand on her cheek. But Hanna stayed awake. She'd conjured so many ways to be a bad girl, but maybe that strategy had made her to visible. Mommy caught on to all of her tricks; so did all the teachers. Hanna needed a sneakier approach-- for school, and home. It might take some time-- she couldn't unleash her new plan all at once or it wouldn't seem convincing. But she knew what she needed to do, and who she needed to become.
The best girl ever.— Zoje Stage
Where is the plot?
So aside from believable characters, and theme, and a satisfying ending, stories also require a plot. A plot can be defined as the main events of a novel. Usually, when writers or readers talk plot, they break it down into four parts. The physical event, a decision, a change in the person (character) and finally a change in the readers understanding of the situation.
However, in Baby Teeth, there doesn't appear to be any plot. There are a series of scenes, each more drastic and violent, however, there is never any explanation. There is not one particular physical event, there is no decision, and none of the characters change. Hanna grows more and more violent throughout the story, as one plan to murder her mom changes to another method and another, but from chapter one the readers are told that Hanna wants to kill her mother so that she can be with her father only. Suzzette is scared throughout the story, but we don't see any growth from her. In fact, the only character who arguably changes is Alex who denies throughout the story that Hanna is violent, and then is persuaded by Suzzette to institutionalize the child, but later we find out that he is still weak and convinced that Hanna isn't all that bad.
Vulgarity in Novels
It is true that some books will have cuss words. However, Stage tends to overdo it. She has a lot and I do mean a lot of cussing throughout her novel. Sometimes it seems reasonable for the character to cuss, and other times it just overflows the page one cuss word after another.
A good novel shouldn't be overrun with cussing or vulgarity. The constant cussing and vulgarity in Baby Teeth actually take away from the overall story. Just like the scenes of sex, including one disturbing scene where the author wants the reader to believe a seven-year-old child is masturbating, makes the book unreadable.
“Sometimes she struggled with resentment watching her family eat a meal that she prepared. People took eating and shitting for granted, like the continuous beating of their hearts, the inevitable protection of their skin. They didn't think about their intestines doing everything wrong, fucking up the basic process of digestion.”— Zoje Stage- Baby Teeth
Overall 1 Star
I want so bad to give this debut novel more than one star, but when I consider the big questions.
1. Does it have believable characters?
2. Does it have a theme?
3. Does it have a satisfying ending?
4. Does it have a plot?
5. Would I recommend it to others?
This novel falls short. I believe that Stage wanted to write a shocking novel simply for the sake of being shocking, and in doing so she fell woefully short. She lacks a plot, her characters are flat cardboard cutouts, and beyond that, the vulgarity prevents me from ever wanting to recommend the book to anyone.
I do want to thank St. Martin's Press for the opportunity to read and review Baby Teeth. I only wish I could have given it more stars.
© 2018 Rachel Woodruff