A Familiar Kind of Strangeness

by Indigo

The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White
 
In The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White our protagonist, Silas*, is “blessed” with violet eyes.  To him, his eyes are more like a curse. In the story, set in 1883 London,  people with violet eyes are able to see and manipulate the spirit world. Unfortunately, for him, he was born female and is seen as little more than a walking baby machine to make more violet eyed Royal Speaker men. This in conjunction with his autism brings shame to his family. 
 
After a failed attempt to run away from home, Silas is diagnosed with “veil sickness” a disease affecting violet eyed women and is sent away to Braxton’s Finishing School and Sanatorium for treatment. But the Royal Speaker Society and the staff at Braxton are hiding things - like missing girls. The ghosts of whom plead for his help. If Silas isn’t able to uncover those mysteries, he might just be the next one missing. 
 
Characters
Silas is an excellent main character. He's one of the best portrayals of autism in a YA novel I’ve read about in a long time — even though the word autism itself is never used. His interest in surgery, his relatable portrayal of a meltdown, and the various ways he stims throughout the book create a real person and scream of an author with personal experience. Some of the secondary characters in the story are a bit lacking; the other patients in Braxton are hardly complex. Silas, his fiancé, and a set of truly vicious villains more than make up for it. 
 
Plot
Stories about abusive institutions are a dime a dozen, but The Spirit Bares Its Teeth does something special with it by channeling that common plot into something more powerful and personal. White takes the struggles of the trans and autistic community, and his personal experience to create a world that you want the characters to rebel from. It’s a familiar kind of strangeness that I relate to; Silas is an outsider to almost everyone. As someone that has lived through that kind of experience myself, the story is painful and real for me. 
 
World-building 
If you prefer intensely accurate historical fiction you might be disappointed, but if you are willing to follow the ghosts presented here, I promise it is absolutely wonderful. The murky streets of 1880’s London with its sinister Royal Speaker Society and the gloom and terror of Braxton Finishing School and Sanatorium make for a world that is easy to get lost in. The addition of the ghosts in this novel confused some people, but, in my humble opinion, the ghosts make sense not just for the story but for the setting as well. Ghosts don’t just haunt the characters they haunt the story in the same way our past mistakes haunt us. The ghosts here are the spirits of the dead, yes, but also the memories of the ugly parts of humanity we try to bury. 
 
Writing Style
The novel is lovingly written, but in the grossest way imaginable - like a gory love note to the outcasts that are reading it saying, “I see what you’ve been through, what you’ve bled through and I’m sorry”.  The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is not an easy read. Despite this, I devoured this book in one sitting, but you may need a least a couple of breaks to get through it — and it’s absolutely worth it. Take heed of the content warnings listed in the book and if gore is not something you can  stomach - sit this one out. There are plenty of other books that approach these topics more lightly such as OUT.
 
Personal Enjoyment
This book may have been made for me. It’s about a trans, autistic man that has a special interest no one else understands in a society that tells him he should feel shame for the way he is. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the author was spying on me to make me the subject of his novel. One of my favorite parts of reading is being able to see myself in the stories. This novel manages to voice an experience I’ve been struggling to put into words to for so long, though for me, the ghosts are far less literal than they are for Silas.  
 
The idea of the past haunting those of us that live in the margins is all too familiar. The Spirit Bares Its Teeth vivisects the worst parts of society and forces the audience to ask how much of that past is still dead and how much of it is haunting us today.
 
 
*Silas has a deadname**, which is used by many throughout the novel despite his protests, but I refuse to write it here.
 
**dead· name ˈded-ˌnām 
: the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning
The Spirit Bares Its Teeth By Andrew Joseph White Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781682636114
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Peachtree Teen - September 5th, 2023

The Out Side: Trans & Nonbinary Comics By The Kao (Compiled by), Min Christensen (Compiled by), David Daneman (Compiled by) Cover Image
By The Kao (Compiled by), Min Christensen (Compiled by), David Daneman (Compiled by)
$15.29
ISBN: 9781524880125
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Andrews McMeel Publishing - September 26th, 2023