February 2, 2021 • Cee • Reviews

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo • February 2, 2021 • FSG
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Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.

Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together — in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.

Exquisitely terrifying, beautiful, and strange, this fierce gothic fantasy will sink its teeth into you and never let go.


First sentence: “I opened my eyes, and I was on the train.”

What Big Teeth has the makings of everything I love in books—that gothic atmosphere, a bit of weirdness, and monstrous creatures with The Addams family-esque dynamics trying to reconcile their family while dealing with a major threat that can blow this family apart—but it doesn’t quite live  up to expectations.

What Big Teeth plays wonderfully on Gothic tropes that establishes the setting and atmosphere well, but it sometimes have its hangups. It’s a great take on the Gothic novel—twisted to fit this monstrous world these characters live in. The type of emotions and distress you’d experience in gothic novels—that melodramaticness—runs rampant in What Big Teeth. Eleanor is your quintessential Gothic heroine who is overwrought with emotions and can frustrate you with her naivety when things are glaringly obvious to even a not-very-observant person like me. Readers are constantly told via Eleanor’s thoughts and dialogue that nobody is telling her what is happening and that they’re trying to tell her something, which can be annoying because it’s been established (we already know this, Eleanor!). Eleanor’s naivety about her family is understandable, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating to see her do things that isn’t tactical to her overall goal to saving the family. You can’t help but wonder what’s going in her head to deny her family’s memories because it doesn’t match the fake front that another puts up.

I wish there were more descriptions of the setting to really hammer it in the overall ominous atmosphere of this world—what gothic doesn’t have a bit of ominousness that creeps up your spine? A lot could’ve elevated this into a great gothic tale.

Key scenes and descriptions were missing to naturally link certain moments. The writing style was awkward at times, often stopping me in my tracks and pulling me out of the story. I found myself being tripped up by how certain descriptions or actions were phrased. In the latter half of the book,

don't click for mild spoilers
when we get another point of view in the form of Grandmother Persephone
, the structure of it doesn’t fit naturally into the story. It had a purpose to move the story along, but it was like an awkward interruption, especially when everything that happened hadn’t been well flushed out or hinted at to lead up to this moment as making sense.

Also, the way the writing dealt with Eleanor’s suspicion toward her Grandmere went from 0-100; throughout the book, she believed that Grandmere is this nice person and shut down her family members’ distrust of Grandmere, and when she no longer trusted Grandmere, it happened out of nowhere. I wanted the writing to play on the growing distrust Eleanor was having toward her Grandmere, but it didn’t happen; it was like the groundwork was skipped over to get to the big moments faster.

Despite issues with the book, some unknown force compelled me to finish. ;) (Funny to say considering what happens to a few characters in this book.) I can’t say that it was the mystery that compelled me to finish. The mystery behind the two most mysterious characters in the book—Arthur and Grandmere—lacked a lot due to the awkwardness of how their backstory was revealed and the poor general structure. In the end, it was unsatisfying.

Should you read What Big Teeth? Uh, I won’t say no because you can judge the book for yourself. If it gets you interested in the gothic genre, why not. What Big Teeth wasn’t as dark and weird as I wanted it to be, and the general structure of the mystery and revelation needed more work, but it is definitely a book that may compel you to keep reading.


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