Title: Cutting Teeth
Author: Julia Fierro
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014, Cutting Teeth takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.
They include Nicole, the neurotic hostess terrified by internet rumors that something big and bad is going to happen in New York City that week; stay-at-home dad Rip, grappling with the reality that his careerist wife will likely deny him a second child, forcing him to disrupt the life he loves; Allie, one half of a two-mom family, and an ambitious artist, facing her ambivalence toward family life; Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into; and Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on Tenzin, the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. These tensions build, burn, and collide over the course of the weekend, culminating in a scene in which the ultimate rule of the group is broken.
True story: I went into this book MAJORLY hemming-and-hawing, totally dragging my feet. And I left it thinking that it may be on my Faves of 2014 list at the end of the year.
Why all the whining beforehand? Honestly, because I think I am hitting THE WALL with "mommy fiction". I know, I write about it all the time and talk about how it's one of my favorite genres (hence why I jumped on this tour in the first place!). But it's kind of like when my mom packed me a peanut-butter-and-fluff sandwich for lunch almost every day in fifth grade. It started out as the best thing ever, but by the end of the year...well, I haven't eaten a PB & fluff in about 20 years.
However, Cutting Teeth stands out in the genre, and can't really be grouped entirely in the mommy category anyway. It is a more honest, authentic, and dare I say...gritty interpretation of fictional parenthood than most others that I've read. The majority of fiction books that I read about motherhood tend to be rather light-hearted, humorous, and nearly always happily-ended. But Cutting Teeth gets at the tougher side of parenting. Each character is, on the whole, a good parent--but inside, emotionally, they are dealing with many of the doubts and problems that even the best parents face. Much of this is focused on identity: who each of them have become in the wake of parental responsibility. In the end, each character is trying to figure out their true self now that they are submerged in the ever-important role of "parent"--and that is a struggle that any mom or dad can certainly relate to.
One of the best things about this book is the deep character-building that takes place. I have seen other reviewers say that this book lacks in plot development, but I would argue that that is because it is so character-driven. One of my recent gripes with other mommy-focused books is that so many of the characters feel one-dimensional. You'll have the All-Natural Mom ("I only buy organic and cloth diaper!"), the Working Mom ("Watch me struggle with work/family balance!"), the Fertility Issues Mom (I am not downplaying the seriousness of this issue, but it does get tired when every book tackles it the same way), etc. And amazingly, by the end of the book they all figure out their issues and/or learn to have respect for other perspectives, yadda yadda.
Yes, the characters in Cutting Teeth do each have very particular traits, and yes, sometimes those traits are overemphasized (case in point: Nicole and her freakish fears about the end of the world, meant to illustrate Overprotective Mommy). However, as a whole, each character is rounded-out quite nicely. For example: Tiffany, the child development specialist who lectures other moms on how to best parent their kids, also happens to be a white-trash sex fiend. Which makes her feel pretty authentic to me (or maybe I'm just hanging out with the wrong people at playgroups, whichever). Plus, there's a stay-at-home dad! And a same-sex couple! And sperm donors! And nearly everyone has crazy secrets! Anyway, lots of interesting relationships here, is what I'm getting at.
I should also point out that this book, while heavy on the kid talk, would likely still make interesting reading for those without kids. That's especially true if you're into novels with great characterization and lots of relationship drama. If you think you can overlook the parenting chit-chat, this one is worth a read.
That rather long-winded analysis boils down to this: Cutting Teeth tackles the realities of parenting with a level of honesty that I found to be refreshing. Yes, sometimes it is almost too pessimistic at times, but perhaps this genre needs a swing in that direction once in a while. Because being a parent is hard, y'all. And it seems to be rather unpopular to directly recognize that fact (no one wants to be viewed as the unhappy parent). But this book pulls no punches, which is a nice change of pace.
As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
HERE. And connect with Julia Fierro on her website, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.