Book Review

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

LGBTQ Book Review

Genre | Contemporary Fiction
Page #s | 304
Publishing Date | June 2021

From the author of the New York Times-bestselling sensation Mostly Dead Things a surprising and moving story of two mothers, one difficult son, and the limitations of marriage, parenthood, and love

If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best–driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school–while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess–and the possibility that it will never be clean again.

Blending the warmth and wit of Arnett’s breakout hit, Mostly Dead Things, with a candid take on queer family dynamics, With Teeth is a thought-provoking portrait of the delicate fabric of family–and the many ways it can be torn apart.


With Teeth portrays motherhood from an almost horror novel perspective, and I don’t know about you, but I am here for it! There is such a sense of dread throughout, but – spoilers! – for any of my fellow hypersensitive scaredy cats out there….It doesn’t get as dark as I feared it was going to. It’s just deliciously head-twisty and absolutely f***ed.

I love a book a with an unreliable narrator, and Sammie is unreliable to the extreme. Her POV is aggressively claustrophobic, which makes the short scenes from other characters that are sprinkled between chapters so valuable. We are primed to see the world through Sammie’s eyes, and it is a shock to see how wrong she is about how people see her or what is true about her son. It’s great storytelling and an indictment on how we all can view our own situation so inaccurately.

This is a story about motherhood generally, but it’s also specifically about queer motherhood. Sammie and Monika feel pressure to be the queer parents with a model family, and ironically, it is this imposed pressure that creates many of the problems they seek to avoid. Relatable. Much like Detransition, Baby, I am so excited to see more books about queer people and relationships that are messy and unhealthy. And boy, are Sammie and Monika unhealthy. Their relationship is painfully realistic, from the small habits that grow increasingly intolerable over time to the solutions that are bandaids over unaddressed gaping wounds.

This is a small thing, but another realistic plot that I really enjoyed was seeing Sammie date while going through a separation. Her affections are split, and she never knows what she really wants, but it is acknowledged that love can develop slowly even in these conditions.

I’ve talked a lot about the queer relationship in the book rather than the mothering relationship between Sammie and Samson, which is pretty on brand for me. The thing is – it’s so twisted and earnest and painful and complicated! Sammie’s life is consumed by her son, and she hates him for it while being unwilling to make changes that could help. She’s a terrible mother, and he’s an ambiguous kid, but their story is incredibly compelling and distressingly recognizable.

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

Give With Teeth to someone who loves books that dissect culturally untouchable topics with honesty and incredible writing.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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