Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Publication Date: January 3, 2012 (SimonPulse/S&S – North America)
Source: Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 5/5 stars – damn, that was good.
Review: I’ll admit that at first I was more than a bit hesitant about this title – it’s been getting such mixed reviews, and I was afraid of getting my hopes up like I had with other YA titles for this year so far and being disappointed.
I was not disappointed. My feels got their feels kicked in their feels and it hurt like hell, but folks, I was NOT disappointed.
There’s so much I want to talk about in this review, and so little space, so I’ll get started. Basically, if you want to be grossed out, have your heart broken, fall in love with a magic gay fish boy, believe in miracles, and then stop believing in them? Read “Teeth”. It’s really that good.
This was my first Moskowitz book, and I’m glad I picked this title out of the ones she’s written so far, just because A) I’m a huge fan of magical realism and B) I love it when authors can bring GLBT things into a book without constantly couching it in suicide and bullying. This book isn’t very long at 288 pages, but it packs quite the punch. I mean, you’re definitely going to be going for the comfort food/a blankie/after. It shows what it means to be human, what it means to be a beast, and it makes you ask – what is the price of a miracle? What is too much to pay for one? Is it worth killing one person you find you suddenly love very much to kill someone you already love more than yourself? All of these questions get answered and so much more, and by the time I finished I was crying, confused, but it was a good kind of both.
While this book kind of pokes a bit of fun of those who live in “Blue Zones” all over the world (places where people to 100+ worldwide – Greece, Japan, and other certain parts of other countries to be specific), but it also asks what exactly makes them live so long? Here comes the magical realism, and the first wonderful twist. We know people in the Blue Zones live long because of the foods they eat – usually raw, hand-prepared, and little to no processed foods. In this case, it’s Enki fish.
Now, while we’re not told precisely where we are in this book (which niggled at me until Teeth came splashing onto the screen) but we just know we’re not in the States, and somewhere very isolated in the middle of the sea. The worldbuilding that takes place on top of this vague base of operations is nothing short of extraordinary, where Moskowitz goes ahead and does what so many authors who pull off amazing worldbuilding do: they shrink their settings to a very small place, specifically the island in this case, and have very little interference from the outside world. It worked so very well. And surprisingly, there’s also an internal worldbuilding going on as Rudy realizes his feelings not only toward Teeth, but Diana, his past tumbles in the hay with girlfriends but also towards his own family, and how that is constantly evolving throughout the book. Both sets of worldbuilding are ridiculously complex and exquisitely wrought, to almost a startling capacity.
Aside from character building, another thing that Moskowitz excels in is cross-gender narration. If you’ve been reading the blog, there’s only been a few books within the last few years I’ve been able to say where the author absolutely knocks it out of the park when doing cross-gender narration (where the character’s gender is different than the author’s). Happily, Moskowitz is one of them, and I’m also happy to say she’s also one of the very, very few who can do it in first person POV. Mostly, one can successfully cross-gender narrate for your MC if you use third person close, where the camera rides on the character’s shoulder but not use their actual personal voice (first person). At first I wasn’t entirely sure which gender Rudy was, but it became clear pretty clear pretty quickly, and I was just having my mouth hang open at how easily Moskowitz speaks in the voice of a mid to late teenage boy realistically – and not just in Rudy’s voice, mind you, but also that of Teeth himself, though we hear him through Rudy’s interactions with him.
Now, this book isn’t all fun and magic gay fish – there is a certain amount of tough stuff discussed therein: having a family member with a chronic illness that will most likely kill them, having to drop everything else in one’s life to take care of that family member, and loss of personal identity because of that illness, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Rudy, when he first comes to the island with his family, is experiencing an acute lack of self because he’s not quite sure of who he is without his friends/girlfriends/drunken and frankly hilarious shenanigans. What I do love is that Moskowitz is never, ever afraid to kill her darlings (repeatedly, if that’s what it takes) in order to get her desired emotional payoff and character growth. Rudy is a constant work in progress, and is in never one stage of growth for very long without moving along – but not too quickly, just at the right pace, the appropriate pace, to make it feel real. And the same with Teeth, even if he is a mythological creature. Moskowitz tortures the hell out of these two (quite literally in Teeth’s case, and not in pretty ways) to get what she wants, and while it so very painful to read, it’s beautiful to behold.
Not to mention, she’s really, really good at sensory imagery and language. To the point where I got nauseous when Teeth’s injuries were being described. Yes, it felt THAT real, folks.
Can I also just say that I’m happy to see that Teeth is described as being “hideous” and “ugly”? Not to have a beautiful boy character was pretty great, and I’m glad that he got some love in the end, even if it wasn’t easy to get to.
Final verdict? Yeah, Rudy’s a potty mouth and there are some seriously gross moments, but it’s all worth it. This is a seriously moving story with not one but two incredibly sympathetic characters. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m running out to buy my copy ASAP. “Teeth” is out now from Simon Pulse in North America, so what are you waiting for? This isn’t one of my best of 2013 for nothing, folks! Go check it out when you can. Seriously. It’s that good.