posted at Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 at 5:00 PM | Reviews, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse on January 1, 2013
Genres: Magical Realism, Paranormal
A gritty, romantic modern fairy tale from the author of Breakand Gone, Gone, Gone.
Be careful what you believe in.
Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.
Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.
First Sentence: “At night the ocean is so loud and so close that I lie awake, sure it’s going to beat against the house’s supports until we all crumble onto the rocks and break into pieces.”
Hannah Moskowitz has been on my radar for years, but only since I started blogging has she become a high priority to acquire, particularly once I discovered Cuddlebuggery. Kat Kennedy has a shrine in her corner of the internet devoted to Hannah Moskowitz, perhaps only slightly smaller than the shrine to Melina Marchetta. Seeing such passion inspired in a reader, I can’t help but be curious. Teeth is, without a doubt, one of the weirdest, most unique books I’ve ever read, and I can see what all the fuss is about.
Moskowitz’s writing in Teeth is not of a style that generally appeals to me, but the writing style perfectly dovetails with the mood of the story and the character of Rudy. Jenni of Alluring Reads described the writing as ‘choppy,’ when we were discussing this book on Twitter. That descriptor really fits perfectly. The choppy writing mimics the cracking ocean and continuous discomfiture of the setting. The breaking waves, the storms, and the gray sky all reflect Rudy’s emotional arc, and further reinforce the dark tone of the novel.
My favorite aspect by far is Moskowitz’ use of magical realism. Teeth reads and feels like a contemporary novel, but with the twist of these magical fish, which, when eaten, can cure diseases and prolong life. Rudy’s family moved to the island in a last-ditch attempt to save the life of his younger brother, who developed cystic fibrosis as a toddler. Unable to obtain a lung transplant, the parents heard about this island with magic fish and gave up their normal life to move to this tiny, weird place in the middle of the ocean.
Rudy, a sullen, sarcastic teenager, resents the move. He misses his friends and normal life, and, even with the fish, he’s not sure how much hope there is for his brother. His life now consists solely of watching his brother for improvement, running barefoot (something he does now, perhaps as an attempt to connect with the world around him?), and homeschooling. Most of the people living on the island are old, extending their lives by the consumption of these fish.
The island becomes much more interesting for Rudy on the day he discovers that he is not, in fact, the only teenager. He meets Diana, a beautiful teenage girl, who will not leave her house, and begins to think about the prospect of getting action again. He also meets, more strangely, a fishboy, as in half-boy/half-fish. A freaking mermaid, as if magic fish that can help his brother’s lungs are not weird enough.
Without a doubt, Teeth is my favorite mermaid book thus far. Moskowitz’ take does not romanticize. Teeth, though he becomes dear to Rudy, could never be described as anything but ugly, at least to human eyes. He’s slimy, has webbed hands and sharp fish’s teeth. Worst for poor Teeth, he cannot breathe underwater. He breathes oxygen, effectively trapping him by the shore with the humans he hates so much, since, despite his fish half, he cannot just disappear into the open ocean or he will drown. His origin story, though creepy and disgusting, is perfection, with a sort of Greek mythology flair.
Before I read this, I’d heard much made of the GLBT themes in this book. Those really are not the biggest or most important theme, though. What Teeth really delves into is what it means to be human and whether animal lives are worth less than human ones. Teeth really gets the reader to consider these classic questions through a different lens, and I loved this philosophical focus.
Though I did like the characters and very much enjoy their story, I would have liked a bit more character development. Rudy and Teeth are the only ones that were adequately fleshed out. The portrayal of Diana and her mother particularly disappointed me, as I would have liked to find out more about their motivations and really delve into their characters, like if Rudy had managed to get his hands on those journals, perhaps. His parents and little brother, Dylan, lacked personality too, having little existence outside of Dylan’s illness.
Teeth is a dark, creepy story, completely unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to look at the world in a new light. This will most definitely not be my last Moskowitz novel.
“‘Look.’ I take a deep breath and say the only thing that will make us both sleep tonight. ‘I think this is the part where we stop pretending we’re not going to see each other again.'”