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Publisher's Summary

“A beautifully observed and thrillingly honest novel about the dark corners of family life and the long, complicated search for understanding and grace.”(Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation and Weather)

The Fourth Child is keen and beautiful and heartbreaking - an exploration of private guilt and unexpected obligation, of the intimate losses of power embedded in female adolescence, and of the fraught moments of glancing divinity that come with shouldering the burden of love.” (Jia Tolentino, New York Times best-selling author of Trick Mirror)

“A remarkable family saga...The Fourth Child is a balm - a reminder that it is possible for art to provide a nuanced exploration of life itself.” (Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind and Rich and Pretty)

The author of Break in Case of Emergency follows up her the “extraordinary debut” (The Guardian) with a moving novel about motherhood and marriage, adolescence and bodily autonomy, family and love, religion and sexuality, and the delicate balance between the purity of faith and the messy reality of life.

Book-smart, devoutly Catholic, and painfully unsure of herself, Jane becomes pregnant in high school; by her early 20s, she is raising three children in the suburbs of western New York State. In the fall of 1991, as her children are growing older and more independent, Jane is overcome by a spiritual and intellectual restlessness that leads her to become involved with a local pro-life group. Following the tenets of her beliefs, she also adopts a little girl from Eastern Europe. But Mirela is a difficult child. Deprived of a loving caregiver in infancy, she remains unattached to her new parents, no matter how much love Jane shows her. As Jane becomes consumed with chasing therapies that might help Mirela, her relationships with her family, especially her older daughter, Lauren, begin to fray. 

Feeling estranged from her mother and unsettled in her new high school, Lauren begins to discover the power of her own burgeoning creativity and sexuality - a journey that both echoes and departs from her mother’s own adolescent experiences. But when Lauren is confronted with the limits of her youth and independence, Jane is thrown into an emotional crisis, forced to reconcile her principles and faith with her determination to keep her daughters safe. The Fourth Child is a piercing love story and a haunting portrayal of how love can shatter - or strengthen - our beliefs.

©2021 Jessica Winter (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about The Fourth Child

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Just OK - Considered Bailing

The story is...OK. Not great. There were so many ways this book should have been better. I cannot bear the sound of Cassandra Campbells voice - when she reads dialogue, everyone sounds like they are whining. She narrated Where the Crawdads Sing too and I hated her voice then, even though I liked the book. But others must really like her work, so I suggest listening to a sample first.

1 person found this helpful

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Good story and narrator

I really enjoyed this book until the last chapter. it was still well worth the read.

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coming of age in the 1980's

“The Fourth Child” is an amazing literary domestic fiction story that is told from two viewpoints. It begins with Jane, who is a zealous catholic young girl, dreamy in her thoughts of all the female saints and Jesus. From the start, the reader is concerned for Jane who is taking her faith to a frightening level, fantasizing on how she too could be a saint, with all their suffering and humiliation. What sets Jane apart from many catholic enthusiasts is that she does practice forgiveness, compassion, and love. Jane’s kindness and patience is almost unreal though. Realistically, I have never met such a person as Jane, not even in nuns. In the interest of honesty, I will confess that I’m a bit jaded when it comes to the overly devote.

Jane gets herself in a family way when she’s a Senior in high school. She marries the father, of course, as that’s what all good girls do. Her husband Patrick is her opposite. He is not kind; he’s cruel. And what Jane endures in her marriage does seem realistic to me (Yes, I’m jaded…I see the bad characters as true and not the purely good characters). Jane has a daughter, Lauren. Two years later she has a son, and one year after that she has another son. Thus, she has three children before she’s 25. Balancing her husband’s temper and the infants and toddlers are a lot.

This is the backdrop though. The story gains legs when Jane sees a Barbara Walter’s special about the Romanian children who were stuck and ill treated in Orphanages. Jane is so moved by the images that she is motivated to adopt one of those needy children. This “fourth” child is Mirela, and she is a handful. Jane thinks of the blessed virgin mother, Mary, often, and she divines what Mary would do in all the difficult situations.

Lauren is exasperated by her mother and by her destructive new sibling. Lauren’s chapters ring true of a girl who is coming-of-age with a fervent catholic mother. I ached for Lauren as much as I was perplexed by Jane. Adding to Lauren’s adolescent drama is the fact that her mother is a right-to-life activists who frequently protests pro-choice activists. And Lauren’s neighbor is a doctor who performs abortions. This doctor has a son who is in Lauren’s school and is incredibly kind to Lauren.

As her children grow up, Jane does not inflict her believes nor religion on her children or friends/neighbors. Her devotion is her own. She’s not trying to persuade people to be more religious; she only wants to stop abortions and live a saintly life. Again, I have never met such a person (with the pure goal of compassion, empathy, and forgiveness), as generally their dogma clouds their “saintly” behavior, but, Winter writes her that way.

Winter writes teen Lauren perfectly. Poor Lauren. She is left to navigate her teen years alone because Jane is overwhelmed by Mirela. In Lauren’s chapters, the reader will be right back into the uncomfortable time of high school.

Of course, as the title implies, the story is truly about what the addition of Mirela does to the family. It’s difficult to like Mirela, even understanding the conditions from which she came.

Winter does not pontificate nor steer the reader to her own views, other than there are kind and saintly people out there. She shows the complications that arise when one has good intentions and is focused on doing the right thing while blindly missing important issues. Plus, she shows how one child can dominate a family life.

I listened to the audio, performed by Cassandra Campbell who is a favorite of mine. Campbell’s melodic voice adds to the story. I highly recommend the audio.

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This book needs some serious editing

Thank heavens for Cassandra Campbell’s narration.
The lovely writing is wasted on a plot that could be unique and interesting, but goes all over the place and gets quite boring. Still trying to figure out what the message is.