Baby Teeth (Stage)

Baby Teeth: A Novel 
Zoje Stage, 2018
St. Martin's Press
320 pp.

A battle of wills between mother and daughter reveals the frailty and falsehood of familial bonds in award-winning playwright and filmmaker Zoje Stage’s tense novel of psychological suspense, Baby Teeth.

Afflicted with a chronic debilitating condition, Suzette Jensen knew having children would wreak havoc on her already fragile body. Nevertheless, she brought Hanna into the world, pleased and proud to start a family with her husband Alex.

Estranged from her own mother, Suzette is determined to raise her beautiful daughter with the love, care, and support she was denied.

But Hanna proves to be a difficult child.

Now seven-years-old, she has yet to utter a word, despite being able to read and write. Defiant and anti-social, she refuses to behave in kindergarten classes, forcing Suzette to homeschool her. Resentful of her mother’s rules and attentions, Hanna lashes out in anger, becoming more aggressive every day.

The only time Hanna is truly happy is when she’s with her father. To Alex, she’s willful and precocious but otherwise the perfect little girl, doing what she’s told.

Suzette knows her clever and manipulative daughter doesn’t love her.

She can see the hatred and jealousy in her eyes. And as Hanna’s subtle acts of cruelty threaten to tear her and Alex apart, Suzette fears her very life may be in grave danger. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Zoje (ZOH-yeh) Stage published her debut novel, Baby Teeth, in 2018. Before that she spent a number of years in film and theater, with fellowships from the Independent Filmmaker Project (2012) and from the New York Foundation for the Arts (2008). In 2009 she won the Screenplay Live! competition and was given the opportunity of directing a staged reading of her winning script, The Machine Who Loved.

After spending years in Rochester, New York, Stage returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she now lives. (Adapted from the author's blog.)

Book Reviews
New York Times Book Review

You might want to cover your eyes (The Must List).
Entertainment Weekly

A deliciously creepy read.
New York Post

Baby Teeth is a mesmerizing thriller that effectively taps into deep-seated anxieties that any parent will find uncomfortably familiar. Hard to put down and harder to forget, the book will delight readers looking for an escape over the summer.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A stay-at-home mom desperately tries to connect with her mute 7-year-old daughter, whose disturbing behavior continues to escalate in this gripping debut novel from an indie screenwriter.

(Starred review) Stage’s deviously fun debut takes child-rearing anxiety to demented new heights.… [The author] expertly crafts this creepy, can’t-put-it-down thriller into a fearless exploration of parenting and marriage that finds the cracks in unconditional love.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) [A] deliciously creepy thriller…. The author keeps the suspense taut by alternating chapters between Hanna and Suzette, offering a terrifying glimpse into the inner thoughts of a budding sociopath. —Kiera Parrott
Library Journal

A totally engaging and unnerving read. Debut novelist Stage has convincingly created one of the youngest villains ever, and readers will be unable to resist the urge to meet Hanna.

(Starred review) Tightly plotted, expertly choreographed.… Stage palpably conveys …the deleterious effects that motherhood can have on one's marriage and self-worth… [fusing] horror with domestic suspense to paint an unflinching portrait of childhood psychopathy and maternal regret.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Was Hanna a misunderstood child, mentally ill, or evil? Did you have any compassion or empathy for her? Would she be any different if Suzette were out of the picture?

2. Do you think Suzette bears any responsibility for Hanna’s naughty behavior? Has she been an instigator of any kind?

3. Do you think Alex bears any responsibility for Hanna’s duplicitous behavior, as he has been the beneficiary of her "good" side, her love?

4. Did Suzette’s upbringing—and the baggage she brought to motherhood—make her a better or worse mother?

5. Why do you think Hanna chooses not to speak? Is it intentional? Is she afraid of something? What do you make of her unusual means to make herself understood?

6. Who is the most selfish character—Suzette, Alex, or Hanna—and why?

7. Who is the most sympathetic character—Suzette, Alex, or Hanna—and why?

8. What was the largest contributing factor to the Jensens’ delay in realizing their child needed serious help: Alex’s denial and need for perfection? Suzette’s fear of losing Alex? Hanna’s ability to manipulate both of them? Or something else?

9. What do you think happens next with Hanna? Do you think she can be successfully treated?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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