STARRED REVIEW
June 2021

With Teeth

By Kristen Arnett
Review by
Kristen Arnett shows her range with laugh-out-loud scenes and moments of honest sadness as she puts her protagonist through the wringer.
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Kristen Arnett delivers a fantastic follow-up after her bestselling 2019 novel, Mostly Dead Things. With Teeth is a hilarious and astute dive into the not-so-fun parts of parenthood. Arnett shows her range with laugh-out-loud scenes and moments of honest sadness as she puts protagonist Sammie through the wringer. With Teeth begins with an attempted child abduction at a playground; just try to stop reading after such a harrowing scene.

Sammie and her wife, Monika, have a lovely life together in Orlando, Florida. They have a nice house, a comfortable income and a son, Samson. But like any family, there are cracks in the foundation, and Arnett steadily subjects those cracks to pressure until they rupture.

A significant cause of strain is that Sammie’s and Monika’s parenting styles are at odds. Even after their romantic relationship ends, the former wives continue to cohabitate for the sake of their son, but the reader may begin to wonder if this benefits him at all. Samson is far from an easy kid, and Sammie often feels like she gave birth to and is living with a stranger. He is difficult and rude past the point of typical child behavior, but as soon as the reader is fed up with him, Samson offers a moment of insight into Sammie’s parenting that partially redeems him.

Sammie’s resistance to change is frustrating, engaging and propulsive. She drinks too much, and she tends to unravel when she learns the truth about a situation. Brilliant asides from peripheral characters such as therapists, teachers and convenience store workers expose the gaps in her reality. Some particularly devastating insight comes from a woman named Debbie who works at Sammie’s childhood church. Sammie perceives Debbie’s actions as homophobic, but when an aside reveals Debbie’s point of view, the reader becomes aware of Sammie’s miscalculations. 

Though it is obvious that many of Sammie’s actions are the cause of her alienation, readers will still root for her from start to finish in this complex picture of queer parenthood.

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With Teeth

With Teeth

By Kristen Arnett
Riverhead
ISBN 9780593191507

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