I think that I went into What Big Teeth expecting it to be coy about its magic and monsters, and was delighted when it quickly went full, unapologetic Addams Family ... The unraveling of this mystery does take its time, giving us lots of space to appreciate its cast of oddballs and misfits. The Zarrins are a tragic and prickly bunch, but as the story progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly fond of them ... Eleanor herself is sometimes a frustrating protagonist, retreating when I wish she'd fight and remaining silent when I want her to probe more deeply. But as the story progresses and we learn the true depth of her alienation from everyone around her, I found myself understanding and sympathizing with her somewhat passive approach ... Szabo is very adept at picking and choosing traits that telegraph understanding without anchoring the characters to everything that's come before ... What Big Teeth gazes into that darkness to face the monster that dwells within.
Szabo is upfront about the wolves suggested by the book’s title; they run through the trees in the very first pages. But other, less familiar creatures lurk in these pages, and it takes time—deliciously well-spent time—to understand how Szabo is using familiar images and types to tell their own kind of coming-of-age story. Yes, there’s a grandmother whose warnings ought to be heeded—but there’s a lot more, too, in this slinky and dark YA horror fantasy about love and desire and family secrets ... Eleanor Zarrin’s grandparents came to this country from across the ocean; their history, laden with crows and witches and islands, forms part of Szabo’s deliciously rich aesthetic. Szabo paints in jewel tones ... Just a few pages in, you’re settled in an in-between state, real and unreal, magic and earthly ... Szabo lets us see Eleanor’s mistakes as she makes them, lets us understand how badly she craves belonging and love after a lifetime of being the odd one out ... What Big Teeth is purposefully paced and absolutely full of longing: longing to understand oneself, to have a place in the world, to be part of a family in a way that feels real and true and secure. It’s a book about desire, and how baffling and contradictory desire can feel, how it can blur into a sense of wanting to consume or be consumed. It’s about knowing where the lines are between you and the people and things you love, and how to maintain those boundaries and your own malleable sense of self. These things echo through decades and generations, though the haunting story of Eleanor’s grandparents all the way to the book’s blazing finale ... Szabo packs so much into this strange, compelling, enchanting book: gorgeous imagery, dextrous use of tropes (the meddling grandmother, the handsome schoolteacher, the witch in a castle, and so many more), a mythic streak, and a surprising physicality. It’s not the wolves who feel muscular and raw, but Eleanor, with her contradictory desires, her drive to help free everyone from a heavy past.
A search for the self is at the forefront of this twisted coming-of-age story, as everyone insists on telling Eleanor who or what she truly is inside. Her journey is not only in discovering who she is, but also the transformation she must make in order to battle the destructive outside forces encroaching upon her family ... Like memory, much of the tale is cloaked in shadow with long passages containing dreams or dream-like sequences and murky flashbacks from various points of view. But it’s not all dark. The story is often injected with a brilliant, wonderland-like atmosphere as we see Eleanor singing the drakondia plants back to life as they 'bob and sway' behind her. Some of the more beautiful scenes are of Eleanor diving clothesless off a cliff into fierce waters, swimming toward her true self ... At times, extraneous information can weigh down the pace of the story, but overall What Big Teeth is a fun and enticing read with many intriguing questions driving the plot forward—though some of the answers seem confused or never quite resolved. It can be argued whether lengthy descriptions hinder or help young readers—as a young person, I found value in reading well-built worlds—but Szabo’s descriptions do lean toward lengthy. There is so much love contained within their details.