Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
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. (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: R, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: bestiality, violence, sexual assault
This book got a lot of buzz on the YA blogs I follow because it featured both gay teens and mermaids (er, fishboys), and in particular the gay teen loved the fishboy. That buzz really interested me both because mermaid books are usually about the, uh, maids, and because the speculative novels I’ve read with LGBTQ teens more often have gay-identified girls. Contemporary YA has far more gay boys than girls, but speculative fiction seems to be the opposite. Basically, buzz=color me curious.
I have to say, I think a lot of the buzz about Teeth was really misleading in everything from Rudy’s sexuality to the extent of his relationship with Teeth, but I am totally ok with that. In fact, I like what the book was so much more than what the buzz had me thinking it would be. I applaud Moskowitz for writing a book about exploring sexuality that isn’t a coming out story. From the beginning of the book, we hear a lot about how Rudy was quite the ladies’ man before moving to the island. He’s comfortable with having sex without being a braggart (which in itself was refreshing). There are no mentions of romantic or sexual relationships with dudes. And yet, by the time Rudy realizes that he has romantic feelings for Teeth, he doesn’t freak out because Teeth is male. He doesn’t even freak out because Teeth is part fish. There’s no lonely walks filled with angsting about how attracted he is to Fish Boy. Rudy is, quite simply, focused on the more complicated aspects of their relationship, like the fact that his brother is only alive because he is eating the fish that Teeth loves. For that matter, Rudy’s feelings for Teeth were subtle enough that had I not known the buzz beforehand (and had I skimmed the book’s blurb), I might not have picked up on the romantic tension at all.
Basically, it was incredibly refreshing to see a YA novel with a gay protagonist that was so much more than a YA novel about a gay protagonist. Rudy is a complicated character with a complicated romantic and sexual life, but at the end of the day that isn’t all he is. So much in Teeth was handled subtly, from sexuality to assault. The relationships between the characters were rich and complex, which made this book so much more than what I’d heard about it.
Trigger-wise, the bestiality is from a flashback, and it deals with Teeth’s conception, not Teeth. I only put that warning in because only one party in that scene had the capacity to consent. There are a lot of mentions of sexual assault, but Rudy never sees any of them up close. The descriptions of violence do get pretty intense at times, especially at the end, but not nearly as intense as in Dualed, the last violent novel I reviewed.
Teeth is an dark, complex novel that will appeal to sci-fi fantasy lovers, those seeking LGBTQ romance (although they *might* be slightly disappointed by amount of romantic details), as well as those who like gritty contemporary novels--Rudy seemed a lot like a contemporary character who accidentally wandered into a speculative setting. Teeth is an excellent book, and if you pass on it, you’re missing out.