A Pittsburgh literary force: Zoje Stage, the creator of the frightful “Baby teeth”

Meet Hanna. Hanna is a mute seven-year-old who adores her father.
He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to
live happily ever after with him. But her mother, Suzette, stands in
her way. Since she was almost three, Hanna’s felt the need to test
Suzette, to find out what she was made of. So Hanna would act, and
give Suzette a chance to act in reply. And then she’d know. If Suzette passed or failed. But though Suzette tried, she couldn’t figure out Hanna’s game. So Hanna’s moved on from testing Suzette, to plotting to kill her.

Meet Suzette. She loved Hanna so effortlessly when she was a baby. Baby Hanna had simple, intuitive needs. Girl Hanna is a box within a box, manipulating, antagonizing, and now harming Suzette. Girl Hanna intentionally cut Suzette’s hair, fed a schoolmate paint, set a trashcan on fire, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Suzette is out of options. She needs to put Hanna away to save her marriage, and keep her sanity.

Image result for baby teeth cover

Baby Teeth (St. Martin’s Press; $26.99), by screenwriter-turned-novelist Zoje Stage, is more than a story about a bad seed. It is an
“unnerving and unputdownable” look at a mentally ill girl with a murky future, and a physically and emotionally vulnerable woman ambiguous about being a mother, “an unflinching portrait of
childhood psychopathy and maternal regret.”

In her book debut, Stage writes from both points of view beautifully, imagining the creative and precocious Hanna, bursting with imagery and emotions she can’t figure out how to express, and imposing her own anxieties and dealings with chronic disease on the emotionally and physically vulnerable Suzette.

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