Title: The Spirit Bares Its Teeth
Author: Andrew Joseph White
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Length: 399 Pages
Category: YA/Teen Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Andrew Joseph White is an uncompromising storyteller. His canvas is the page, his imagination the palette, and his words and experiences the color he uses to paint a story, sometimes in grisly ways, always vibrantly. This book is not for the squeamish.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Mors vincit omnia. Death conquers all.
London, 1883. The Veil between the living and dead has thinned. Violet-eyed mediums commune with spirits under the watchful eye of the Royal Speaker Society, and sixteen-year-old trans, autistic Silas Bell would rather rip out his violet eyes than become an obedient Speaker wife.
After a failed attempt to escape an arranged marriage, Silas is diagnosed with Veil sickness—a mysterious disease sending violet-eyed women into madness—and shipped away to Braxton’s Finishing School and Sanitorium. When the ghosts of missing students start begging Silas for help, he decides to reach into Braxton’s innards and expose its guts to the world—so long as the school doesn’t break him first.
Review: If it wasn’t evident that Andrew Joseph White is seemingly uninterested in writing gentle fiction with his debut novel, Hell Followed with Us (one of the best books I read in 2022), The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is indisputable proof he savors telling stories that center his transgender characters in challenging environments. And then convinces readers that fighting to be who they are, against the push-back of a society that repudiates them, can be accomplished in some thoroughly gruesome and engaging ways.
This book is not for the squeamish. Although it’s not categorized as such, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is a horror novel. Body horror, both on-page and the ideation of, is significant to its plot, so be forewarned there are characters who do not go gently into that good night. Sometimes the cruelty of their survival is, in fact, much worse. The patriarchy is the unrepentant evil in this place where young women are manipulated, pushed, and othered, with impunity. Daughters are bartered, young women are cajoled and coerced into behaviors deemed necessary to make them marriageable. If a girl displays independence or scorn for the status quo, there is a remedy for that—a cruel dose of redirection at Braxton’s Finishing School and Sanitorium.
Silas Bell has a promising career as a physician, were it not for him being assigned female at birth. As a boy who society insists is not, only because of the shape his body has taken, a young man who doesn’t fit the mold of obedient daughter to parents who demand “she” conform, Silas faces the challenge of surviving as a shell of a person. Added to that, is the autism that prevents him from reading social cues and makes communication uncomfortable and difficult at times. Silas was Braxton’s-bound from the jump, if not someplace worse, owing to his very existence in a society that refuses to accommodate or do even the bare minimum to understand him.
White is an uncompromising storyteller. His canvas is the page, his imagination the palette, and his words and experiences the color he uses to paint a story, sometimes in grisly ways, always vibrantly. Silas’s punishment for the pseudo-illness called Veil sickness, which is not a thing at all but is named so to explain female social behaviors that deviate from the Royal Speaker Society’s rules, is detention at Braxton’s. His alleged affliction is to have been born with violet eyes as well as a deep-seated distaste for the idea of being forced to marry and perform wifely duties. Meeting the person he is destined for turns out to be Silas’s greatest fortune, as they are more alike than either of them could’ve imagined. Silas also discovering someone at Braxton’s who is like him turns out to be a gift amidst the debris of his abuse at the hands of those who were meant to help.
The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is a story of triumph, in the end, as the payoff for the misery its characters are confronted with and tested by along the way.
You can buy The Spirit Bares Its Teeth here: