Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Five titles about the horror of girlhood

Damien Angelica Walters is the author of The Dead Girls Club, forthcoming in December 2019, Cry Your Way Home, Paper Tigers, and Sing Me Your Scars, winner of This is Horror’s Short Story Collection of the Year.

At she tagged five "books that delve into the secrets and darkness of girlhood," including:
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

In horror, evil children are as much a staple as a final girl, but Zoje Stage breathes new life into the trope with her debut novel.

From the outside, the Jensen family looks perfect. Alex, the father, owns his own architectural firm and Suzette is a stay-at-home mother who home-schools their daughter. Hanna, at seven, is mute, but medical tests reveal no underlying reason for her silence.

But from the time she’s a toddler, there’s something obviously wrong about Hanna. One of her favorite games is called “Scare Mommy,” and we find out that she wants her mother dead so she can live happily ever after with her father. Hanna torments her mother in small and large ways, from writing bad words instead of her spelling assignments, to stealing Suzette’s favorite earrings, to tampering with the medication she takes for her Crohn’s disease. But when Hanna’s father gets home from work, she’s all smiles for him.

The chapters from Suzette’s point of view are filled with frustration, sorrow, and rage as she tries to mother her unlovable child. Those from Hanna’s side of the fence are chilling. She wants her father all to herself and is willing to do anything to achieve that goal.

A healthy relationship between mother and child is one of comfort and guidance, but of her mother Hanna thinks “She was a good opponent.” I found myself horrified at how manipulative and cruel this young girl could be and at the same time, horrified at how callous Suzette could be in turn, yet I couldn’t entirely blame her.

I think the true horror is that there’s no possible way the story will have a happy ending for everyone. Both girlhood and motherhood are irrevocably twisted out of shape. And Hanna, in her youth, doesn’t seem to understand that, although she can manipulate the people around her as much as she can, that’s the only tool she really has. Since she’s a child, the decisions that will shape the course of her life are ultimately not hers to make. I was filled with loathing and pity both for her.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Baby Teeth is among Sally Hepworth's eight messed up fictional families.

--Marshal Zeringue