by Zadie Smith
Coming-of-Age; Family Drama
Coming-of-age stories aren't just stories where older relatives pinch cheeks and say, "My, my, you are growing up so fast." Shmoopsters, can you imagine what Millat would do if someone pinched his cheeks? Yikes.
This novel shows us the paths Irie and Millat (and in less significant ways, Clara and Magid) take from adolescence to adulthood. We see them make the choices that define who they become. This process is made complicated—but interesting—by the fact that both Irie and Millat are second-generation immigrants trying to come to terms with the lives their parents have made and want for them.
Who wants to grow up anyway? Not The Ramones. But Irie and Millat are desperate to break from their parents' ideas of who they should be, and become who they want to be.
Family Dramas center on—gasp—issues of family and relationships within a family. Shocker, we know. But clearly, White Teeth falls right in the middle of this genre. This novel gives us insight into three generations in the same space, and it takes us back along the tangled roots to help us (and the characters) see how things got to be the way they are.
In White Teeth, we learn over and over again that as much as kids may rebel against their families, they can't escape certain aspects of their pasts. Some things, you just have to learn to accept as your lot in life. Heavy.