The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White
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 Silas Bell would rather rip out his violet eyes than become an obedient Speaker wife. According to Mother, he’ll be married by the end of the year. It doesn’t matter that he’s needed a decade of tutors to hide his autism; that he practices surgery on slaughtered pigs; that he is a boy, not the girl the world insists on seeing.
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 Sanitorium and Finishing School. The facility is cold, the instructors merciless, and the students either bloom into eligible wives or disappear. So when the ghosts of missing students start begging Silas for help, he decides to reach into Braxton’s innards and expose its rotten guts to the world—as long as the school doesn’t break him first.
PUBLISHER: Peachtree Publishing Company
LENGTH: 384 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Horror
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Trans Main Character(s), Closeted Main Character(s).
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
The TL;DR is "this stressed me out, you should read it too".
THE SPIRIT BARES ITS TEETH is about a trans boy who is institutionalized for "Veil sickness", a condition which is basically a supernatural version of hysteria, itself a historical catch-all term for "that person we think is a woman isn't doing what we think she ought to do and we want it to stop". What's unique about Veil sickness as opposed to hysteria is that it specifically applies to people with violet eyes, a mark of those who can contact departed spirits. Violet-eyed British men are channeled and constrained by a strict social hierarchy and a physical mark that they are following the socially approved path of a Speaker. Silas is not a girl, he's an autistic trans boy whose interest in anything unfeminine is a threat to the Speakers' power. THE SPIRIT BARES ITS TEETH focuses on Silas as both trans and autistic, as well as times when he meets people who are one or the other but not both. These experiences help him parse the ways that these two facets of himself are so intertwined for him but are not necessarily linked for other people. He deals with an intersection of transphobia, misogyny, and ableism, as the times when he is dismissed for not following the social path of a woman can be inseparable from dismissal of him as an autistic person or not understanding the overwhelmingly allistic social hierarchy and assumptions. Trapped at the institution with few connections to the outside, Silas must try to figure out what's happening to the girls who disappear, and who he can trust to get answers.
As a nonbinary trans person, this was a hard book to read due to some overlaps with my personal experiences (thankfully not at the level of an actual horror novel such as this). I read it in large sections, taking a few days in between each to process and prepare myself for the next part. I'm very glad I read it and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys horror, especially medical horror (which features heavily). If you would prefer something more apocalyptic and less medical but are otherwise interested in themes of body horror and transphobia, I suggest reading Andrew's debut novel, HELL FOLLOWED WITH US.
Graphic/Explicit CW for misgendering, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, gaslighting, forced institutionalization, confinement, deadnaming, physical abuse, child abuse, blood, gore, violence, pedophilia, abortion, injury detail, self harm, torture, medical content, medical trauma, murder, child death, death.
Moderate CW for cursing, ableism, sexual abuse, sexual assault, outing, adult/minor relationship, bullying, vomit, self harm, animal death, parental death.
Minor CW for alcohol, miscarriage, cannibalism, slavery, colonization.