Tale Of A Tooth by Allie Rogers
Four-year-old Danny lives with his mother, Natalie, in a small Sussex town. Life is a struggle and when they are threatened with a benefits sanction, salvation appears in the form of a Job Centre employee called Karen. But Karen’s impact is to reach far beyond this one generous gesture, as she and Natalie embark on an intense relationship.
Told in the voice of an intelligent, passionate and unusual child, Tale of a Tooth is an immersive and compelling look at the impact of domestic abuse on a vulnerable family unit.
The protagonist of Tale of a Tooth is four year old Danny White. Danny lives in a studio flat with his mother, who he calls Meemaw.
From the beginning of the book, we realise that Danny is an unusual child. He sees Meemaw’s emotions as colours, he is a fluent reader, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs, the ability to spend long stretches of time content in his own company and he is often overwhelmed by too much light and noise.
Danny’s intelligence, his perceptiveness, his particular ways of navigating the social world, along with the intensity of his bond with Meemaw, made him a gift of a character to narrate this story. As the author, I felt there was no need to do anything other than let Danny speak. He doesn’t miss what matters, even if sometimes he doesn’t understand the significance of what he’s observing.
At one point in the book, Meemaw talks to Danny about the future, when she thinks people might start ‘slapping on the labels.’ So, what labels is she talking about? Is Danny gifted? Does he have synesthesia? Does he have sensory processing disorder? Is he on the autistic spectrum?
This story happens in the part of Danny’s life when he lives alone with his mother and is not in touch with any services that might have given him any sort of diagnosis. If readers want to consider his possible future, if they feel any particular labels fit, then I’m sure they will apply them. But, as the author, all I knew for certain was that Danny had arrived in my head with this story to tell. I let him tell it as himself and challenged my readers to enter his way of experiencing the world without giving it any adult definitions.
One of the things I hope Danny manages to convey to the reader is the safety and warmth of his life with Meemaw, in spite of the many challenges they face as the story unfolds. Though they are living on the edge financially, Danny’s world is kept stable and manageable by Meemaw’s deep, almost instinctive, understanding of him.
Of course, that’s not to say that Meemaw doesn’t misunderstand at times, or lose patience, or occasionally get driven to desperation by his particular wants or needs. And that’s certainly not to say that she doesn’t crave adult company or the attention of someone who sees her as more than just Meemaw. But she and Danny share a powerful bond and I hope readers see that a great deal of Danny’s courage and resilience comes from having a mother who respects his essential self.
As a parent, aunt, and friend, I’ve been privileged to know a lot of four year olds. To be honest, I think they have all been far more sophisticated and complex little people than the adult world usually assumes them to be. If I say Danny is ‘unusual’ then I think it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no template child in the world against whom he is to be measured. All children, all people, are, of course, unique.
Tale of a Tooth is a dark story in many ways. There were scenes that were painful to write, as I realised the horror of what Danny was going to face. I became fiercely fond of him, his kindness, his focus and, more than anything, his honesty. But it was his honesty that meant there was no way he was going to flinch from telling the truth of what happened when his Meemaw met Karen. I hope readers will hear him.