"Cutting Teeth" | Reviewed by Jenny Johnson
Little Academy Preschool is idyllic. The bright colors, sweet little handprints and chorus of delighted voices in the halls are enough to set anyone at ease—particularly the parents who have entrusted their children to go there. Effervescent new teacher Miss Ollie is far overqualified for her role and cares for the students as if they are her own; she is a virtual pre-K Mary Poppins.
For mothers Rhea, Darby and Mary Beth, having their children enrolled in the school provides them with a perfect time to relax and turn their attentions back to their own needs, careers and relationships. Soon though, shockingly violent behavior erupts from the 4-year-old class as the children develop an urge to not only bite but to drink the blood of others.
Bewildered and concerned by their blood thirsty little angels, the parents start to lose confidence in their new favorite teacher. When Miss Ollie herself falls victim to a fatal act of violence at school the obvious suspects seem to be the class of preschoolers with blood moustaches above their lips, but the truth (and twist) is far more shocking.
“Cutting Teeth” is part murder mystery and part social commentary on motherhood. Author Chandler Baker hits the nail on the head in both respects. Leaning into maternal archetypes with her three main characters, who double as the novel’s narrators, she explores common struggles of modern mothers.
“Granola” Rhea, a single mom and homeopathic remedy peddler who packs organic, vegan lunches in her son’s lunch box then shamefully gobbles down fast food in her car; Darby, who struggles with her stifled career and body image after having two kids and has started to worry that her husband’s evening trips back to the office are really a different kind of meet up; and stay at home mom Mary Beth who has finally felt inspired by the hip new pastor at church to reclaim the lost intimacy in her marriage after devoting her every waking moment to her children.
While not perfectly likeable, each of these women is highly relatable and their imperfections spark more introspection than criticism. When some of them begin to indulge in their child’s bloodlust, offering up their own bodies for venipuncture, it begs the question “what wouldn’t I be willing to do for my child?”
Miss Ollie certainly knows the answer.