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.
If there was ever a book written for avid YA readers looking for something fresh in their favorite genre, this is that book. The writing is easy and compulsively readable, the characters relatable in that Young Adult trademark way, and the relationships built and maintained throughout the novel are its greatest assets, so it’s got all the best things about YA.
It’s also got no love triangle in sight, a male protagonist, and the driving “relationship” is the bromance between Rudy and fishboy/mermaid thing, Teeth. On a secretive island inhabited by old and dying people who keep themselves alive by eating magical, all-curing fish. Magical fish that the fishboy calls his brothers, fish that Rudy’s brother needs to eat on a daily basis to be able to keep breathing.
The concept is kooky and wonderful, but it takes a backseat to the amazing characterization. Within the first few pages, Rudy already has a distinct voice. By the end, he feels like he could drag himself out of the book and become a real boy, like a creepy The Ring –esque Pinnochio of the pages. He’s flawed but sympathetic, and the improbable friendship he builds with half-fish, half-boy Teeth is every bit as addictive and heart-wrenching as the most passionate YA romances.
Gah, how I freaking love that illiterate, air-breathing, fish-loving, self-sacrificing Teeth. I just…I want to hug him. Bring him home and let him live in my bathtub while I regale him with tales of the land and teach him better vocabulary. He’s pretty damn real by the end of this book, too.
The other characters in Teeth aren’t nearly at the level of its two leading ones, but no one in the novel feels forced. Rudy’s relationship with his dying-but-for-the-magical-fish young brother, Dylan, could so easily have been corny, over-the-top, melodramatic fluff, but it wasn’t. It was real. Rudy’s occasional resentment of his brother for his condition, his intense love and protectiveness for him, it all tugged at quite a few heart strings. Rudy and Dylan’s was easily the second strongest relationship in the book. The simple fact that Moskowitz was able to turn Dylan from a plot-device character into one of the book’s biggest strengths should speak volumes in itself about her writing ability.
If forced to name a few things I didn’t love so much, I’d have to say that the ending could have been a bit…more. It did have a definite conclusion, but it just wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It feels complete, closed, but there’s also room for a sequel, and there’s a huge part of me that hopes for one. (If that doesn’t make sense right now, it will after you read it. Trust me.)
The character Diana, Rudy’s neighbor and the only girl anywhere near his age on the island, annoyed me a bit at times. I do love how Moskowitz didn’t turn her into some hugely romantic character, cheapening the relationship between Rudy and Teeth, but still. I wanted to punch her a few times, and not always in a good, intended-for way.
It’s a very dark read, with intense abuse themes. This didn’t bother me, but if you’re a squeamish or happily-ever-after kind of reader, you may not be quite as enthusiastic about Teeth as I am. But these flaws in no way diminish the strengths, and I will always remember this book for its main character and fishboy friend.
My first mermaid novel set the bar so incredibly high for its peers. I have the feeling that, for me, Teeth is going to be to mermaids what Daughter Of Smoke And Bone is to angels. A completely unparalleled reading experience within its subgenre.
It’s sitting on Goodreads right now, lonely while lesser books have ratings numbering in the ten thousands. Do yourself a favor and add it. Then buy it. Then read it and fall in love with Teeth. Then come back here and thank me for introducing you to him. Then read it again.
Teeth - 4.5 out of 5 stars