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Baby Teeth 2018 Book Excerpt

This Gripping New Novel Takes Mother-Daughter Relationships to Vicious Extremes

We need to talk about Baby Teeth. The gripping new novel, which hits shelves next Summer, promises to be a pulse-spiking thriller with one of the youngest (and most cunning) villains in recent memory. Baby Teeth chronicles the tense relationship between a mother, Suzette, and her mute daughter, Hanna. It's not just that Suzette and Hanna don't get along. Hanna wants to get rid of her mother . . . for good. According to the publisher, this is "a story about a perfect-looking family, and a mute little girl who wants nothing more than to kill her mother."

Baby Teeth doesn't hit bookshelves until July 17, 2018. I know, it's a long time away! Luckily for you, we've got our hands on an exciting (and a bit unnerving) excerpt in which Suzette worries how her husband will respond to the news she has just learned: that there's technically nothing physically wrong with Hanna, and the real problem is in her head.

SUZETTE

She tended to the house as if it were a newborn, needing constant attention in order to thrive. She knew what squalor looked like—a grimy bucket or chipped bowl beneath every exposed pipe, every ceiling a topographic map of peeling paint—and so long as she was with Alex she need never see it again. To enjoy the tactile sensation, she went around the house barefoot, and the bathroom floor was her favorite: cool, smooth stone. The tingling against the soles of her feet traveled all the way up to her throbbing head, offering more relief than the Tylenol. In circular scrubs, she worked her way across the quartz countertop. Alex spared no expense to make the master bathroom the spa she longed for. A long trough sink. A soaking tub with sleek, oceanic curves, large enough for the two of them to share like a womb. The shower with its pair of rainfall nozzles, so they could stand together and close their eyes, transporting themselves to distant places—misty Ireland, balmy Thailand. Toilet. Bidet. A tall window, the bottom half frosted. Everything white. Everything clean. The only thing he hadn't been able to give her was a skylight, because of his third floor home office.

She set the bucket on the floor and got down on her hands and knees. And scrubbed along the path where she had paced, erasing her own invisible footprints.

Usually, such methodic movements lulled her into a spacey, unfocused state. A place where she could decompress. But she worried on what to tell Alex. Good news: nothing's physically wrong with Hanna. Bad news: the problem might be in her head. Would he be upset? He never saw Hanna do things like lash out at a much younger child, and disbelieved much of the bad behavior that her kindergarten teachers had reported. He was convinced they were exaggerating because Hanna wasn't milestone typical. They'd started referring, between themselves, to "Hanna's disability" and while Alex insisted the world was becoming more tolerant and inclusive of such differences, the elite schools they'd enrolled her in were not.

"She's so smart, way above average, even without being verbal," Alex had boasted many times.

Suzette knew he still hoped for full, if delayed, integration. Had enough time passed? Would Hanna be ready by fall? Perhaps the new developmental psychologist could help them prepare her. It worried Suzette that Alex didn't know everything—she'd stopped the daily updates years prior when she saw the growing annoyance in his face. He made her feel like a complainer; incompetent. Their time together went more smoothly without the behavioral reports. But if she repeated the doctor's assessment—that refusing to speak required very different treatment than being unable to speak—then Alex would have to accept that some-most-all of Hanna's willfulness was intentional. Their daughter was playing with them, in different ways. Fucking with them. Manipulating them for her own sadistic purposes.

She threw the sponge in the bucket and cautioned herself to stop. Accusing a seven-year-old of sadism might be taking it a bit too far. But though Suzette had tried, she couldn't figure out her daughter's game. She loved the girl so effortlessly when she was a baby, a toddler. People told her those were the hardest times, before a child could speak their needs, but for her they were the easiest. Baby Hanna had simple, intuitive needs. Girl Hanna was a box within a box, each layer wrapped in a bow that was really a trickster's knot. Once, she and Alex had orbited each other, their hands clasped together as gravity spun them in perfect circles. The addition of Hanna made it all wonky.

An image flashed behind her eyes. A runaway asteroid, knocking Hanna out of their orbit. If it were just the two of them, they could find their equilibrium again.

Tap-tap-tap.

She blinked away the treasonous thought.

Hanna was still there? She hadn't gone back downstairs? Suzette sat back on her heels and didn't respond.

Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap.

"I said I'll be right down."

Whap-whap. Hanna slammed her palm on the closed door. Kicked it. Uttered a high-pitched squeal of protest.

"Hanna! Go downstairs! Move onto another question that you can do on your own and I'll be down in a minute!"

She waited, listening, hoping to hear an exasperated humphh of defeat and the retreating sound of small feet. But no. The doorknob jiggled. Tentatively, then more insistently. Hanna kicked the door again.

They didn't spank. And Alex never even yelled. But the kid was pushing it. Suzette unlocked the door and whipped it open.

"For f*ck's sake, Hanna. Why don't you ever listen to me?"

The girl stood there, arms loosely at her sides, considering her mother. Then her eyes rolled back until they were solid white. Dead nothingness in the sockets.

"Because I'm not Hanna," the girl whispered.

From Baby Teeth published by arrangement with St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2018 by Zoje Stage.

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