By Kristen Arnett
My rating: 4 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.57
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Format Read: Audiobook
Goodreads summary: From the author of the New York Times-bestselling sensation Mostly Dead Things a surprising and moving story of two mothers, one difficult son, and the limitations of marriage, parenthood, and love
If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best–driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school–while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess–and the possibility that it will never be clean again.
Blending the warmth and wit of Arnett’s breakout hit, Mostly Dead Things, with a candid take on queer family dynamics, With Teeth is a thought-provoking portrait of the delicate fabric of family–and the many ways it can be torn apart.
This book is a confusing one to review because I feel so confusingly about it. I actually wrote a way longer piece that explains my feelings about this book and also general LGBTQ+ representation, but I’m hoping to get that published ~elsewhere~ so I don’t want to publish it here yet. But stay tuned because that may be popping up eventually! In terms of what I want to say in this review… this was the definition of a hateable main character.
The thing is that I think Arnett did an incredible job writing this book. With Teeth is about a mom named Sammie, who’s married to her wife Monika and has a son named Samson. Sammie and Monika’s marriage is falling apart, and Sammie doesn’t really like Samson (who clearly has some developmental emotional problems) all that much. She’s a shitty mom, loves to make herself the martyr of her own story, and generally behaves in inadvisable ways while making excuses for herself.
But we’re also getting everything from her perspective. Everything we read about Sammie is filtered through the way Sammie views it, and so at times we as readers start to fall into her delusions. We start to become Sammie, to feel for her, to hate Samson and Monika the way she does– and then she does or says something that pulls us right back into ourselves. The beauty of this book is the push and pull that Arnett achieves, creating a gay female character that is most certainly not created to be adored.
There was a twist at the end that a lot of people in the Goodreads reviews didn’t seem to like all that much, but I personally thought that it was pretty cool, although I admittedly had to rewind the audiobook and listen again to understand what happened. I’m not sure if this was a result of it being an audiobook and me not being able to take processing breaks as easily, or if it’s because the ending was a little bit confusing, but regardless I don’t see anything wrong with it ESPECIALLY given the way this story played out. If it all made complete sense I think that would have taken away from the story itself.
I honestly grew to enjoy this book more the longer I thought about it after reading. Immediately upon finishing I was a little annoyed, and as the days have gone by and I’ve had time to mull it over now it really grew on me. There’s no character development whatsoever and that’s the beauty of it! Other pro- the lesbian representation felt very real and natural and it’s obvious that Arnett is actually gay.
Should you read this book? Maybe, but prepare to be (intentionally) frustrated!