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Dear Child


Dear Child

From newcomer Romy Hausmann comes DEAR CHILD, a twisty and chilling thriller about what happens after a victim is saved.

When a woman is struck in a hit-and-run accident, she and her daughter are taken to the local hospital. With the mother unable to identify herself, the nurses turn to the girl, Hannah, who is well-spoken and polite, but says things that quickly raise the hospital’s alarm bells --- like that she and her mother live in a cabin in the woods, and her brother is home cleaning up a blood stain on their stairs. Readers instantly will be reminded of books like ROOM and headlines about women and children being held captive for so long that they forget what the real world is like. But this book has only just begun to shock and terrify you.

"Hausmann has an innate talent for writing chills into the most innocent of scenes, and her crafting of the mystery at the heart of the novel is cinematic in its scope."

Thirteen years ago, a 23-year-old woman named Lena Beck disappeared one night after a party. Since then, her parents have done countless interviews, harassed the local police force and kept their daughter’s room ready for her safe return. So when a call comes in from a local hospital one night telling them that a woman who has arrived claiming to be Lena has just escaped from a cabin in the woods, Matthias and Karin are sure that their search is over. But the woman they find in the hospital bears no resemblance to their daughter. Or does she? She is the right age, has the same scar, and Hannah is instantly recognizable as coming from the same family tree as the Becks. So why is her story not adding up?

Alternating between the perspectives of Lena and Hannah, Hausmann unveils a terrifying story of abuse, captivity and the wounds that do not heal just because one has escaped. Lena has killed her captor and run away with her children, but she cannot shake the feeling that something is still out there, tracking her and waiting for her to turn her back. As doctors and police get involved, she slowly starts to share her story --- and it is, of course, every bit as traumatic and sickening as you can imagine. But even when Lena is telling stories of her abuse, the doctors are troubled by her lack of care for her children and the holes in her story. At the same time, it becomes clear that Hannah has not grasped the severity of her situation, even though she is unnaturally bright and well-spoken, leading them to wonder if she knows more than she says about why she and Lena were being held in a cabin.

Rounding out the narrative is the perspective of Matthias, who is obsessed with reuniting his family, including his new granddaughter. Even as Lena’s story falls apart and his wife begs him to reconsider, he cannot help but leak photos of his granddaughter to the media, forcing connectedness on his family members and flying into rages when his beliefs are challenged. This is a twisty and convoluted story, but it unfolds perfectly, with each character revealing another oddity, another brush with darkness and a violent past.

DEAR CHILD is a perfect mash-up of books like ROOM and DON’T LOOK FOR ME, but don’t ignore this one just because you’ve read others like it. Hausmann has an innate talent for writing chills into the most innocent of scenes, and her crafting of the mystery at the heart of the novel is cinematic in its scope. I loved how she focused on the moments directly after Lena’s escape, rather than her time in captivity. So often we forget that victims of crimes will live with their trauma for much longer than the time they were held captive or assaulted, and Hausmann has clearly researched the psychological effects of events like these. Each victim in the story reacts differently, and she handles their journeys to acceptance with grace and compassion, even as she refuses to shy away from the darker, more violent scenes.

This is a truly chilling book, and though it feels ripped from the headlines, I feel confident that few readers will know what to expect from it. You may be good at guessing endings, but this one will absolutely shock you, even if you're convinced you’ve figured it all out.

I’m usually hesitant to read translated works, and though I raced through this book, I thought that several transitions were too abrupt, to the point that they were distracting. I couldn’t put it down, but I still felt a bit disconnected from the plot, almost as if the syntax was too flat. It is obvious that Hausmann is talented, so I am hoping that something was lost in translation, but I can see other readers being turned away from the occasionally disjointed narrative.

Shocking, raw and absolutely horrifying, DEAR CHILD marks the emergence of a bright new talent and a perfect addition to any thriller reader’s library.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 16, 2020

Dear Child
by Romy Hausmann