Review: Teeth

Review: TeethTeeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Published by Simon Pulse on January 1, 2013
Genres: Magical Realism, Paranormal
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted

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.

Favorite Quote:

“‘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.'”

27 responses to “Review: Teeth”

  1. Estelle says:

    Really really intriguing review. I haven’t heard of this title or the author, and I’m really interested.

    This line: 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.

    …reminded me a lot of “Endangered” by Eliot Schrefer which I loved. This theme pops up quite a bit.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Christina says:

      Oh wow! She’s up your aisle, because she only writes standalones!

      Ha, true it does come up a lot, but I really like it, because it’s got a wider focus than the usual. I wonder if Endangered is at all like Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. *ponders*

  2. Great review and I adored this book too.

  3. You’ve convinced me I need to read this book. I really had no idea what it was about, so I just passed it over, having never read Hannah Moskowitz before. But you make this sound amazing! And I just love magical realism.

    The only thing by Hannah Moskowitz I’ve read now is her letter in Dear Teen Me. That convinced me I need to read her books. So I’ll be putting this on the top of the list, right before Break.

  4. fakesteph says:

    Gah. I think I’m even more excited to read this now!

  5. Princess Ash says:

    Ah, Kat Kennedy. Knowing her is almost enough reason to read something by this author. But then I think about my reading pile… and, well, you know where I’m going with this.

    Your review is perfectly fleshed-out, fyi. I finally feel like I have a grasp on what this book is about. Finally. And I’m mentally circling it with a quizzical look on my face, like I would a dead squirrel in the middle of the road or something. I kind of want to bring my face closer, but then it could jump out at me on it’s last stretch of strength before death and I also kind of want to recoil.

    Does that make sense? XD

    • Christina says:

      Ha, Kat Kennedy truly moved her to the top of my review pile, and I know I need to get to Marchetta as well, because of her influence.

      Thank you! It’s very weird, but also reads very much like a contemp. It’s a strange little beasty, but also a beautiful one.

  6. I totally agree that I would have liked to have gotten more from the side characters in this one. But, like you, Rudy and Teeth were enough to keep this at a four for me.

    It’s so funny to read you say “mermaid book.” I mean that is completely accurate of course, but it just doesn’t feel like anything other than a contemporary. So happy you loved this!

  7. Nori says:

    Wow. This sounds so good! I still haven’t read anything by this author yet, but I feel like I need to.

  8. Giselle says:

    The magical fish boy I never would have expected before I started reading reviews for this one. I love weird books! It sounds so different from anything I’ve read and I’m a fan of Hannah, too! I actually had an ARC of this one and the file keeps crashing my reader so I wasn’t able to read it. GAH!!! I’m ordering it, though! 😀

  9. Karina A. says:

    When I first saw the cover of the book, I was really intrigued as to what it is about. I’ve never expected it to be about mermaids and I haven’t read books about mermaids yet! i should check this one out. Thanks for the review! 🙂

  10. You had me at “magic fish.”

  11. This is definitely a unique book. And a male mermaid. Very intriguing indeed although I have read some reviews that said Teeth was a disappointment.

    • Christina says:

      Huh. Well, I went in without any real expectations, so I was not disappointed. If you go in looking for something really LGBT or for a typical mermaid story, then, yeah, I see that.

  12. let it be says:

    I’ve never actually read a mermaid story, so this one sounds pretty interesting to me. The first line is really catchy and something I could totally relate to. Might just pick this one up sometime. Thanks for your review.

  13. I’m seeing this book all over the sphere. I wasn’t sure should I read it or not…but I think you convinced me to read it. 🙂 Great review

  14. saarayy says:

    So excited to read this 😀

  15. Bea Tejano says:

    Great review!;) I love me some mermaid and fantasy novels:) Excited to give this a try:)

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