cover image The Fourth Child

The Fourth Child

Jessica Winter. Harper, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-297155-5

In Winter’s smart second novel (after Break in Case of Emergency), a Catholic mother of three seeks greater fulfillment, first by volunteering for a pro-life group, then by adopting a new child. Stirred by a segment on 20/20 about the awful conditions of Romanian orphanages, Jane Brennan flies to Europe and adopts three-year-old Mirela, upsetting the dynamics between her; her husband, Pat; and their biological children. As the mischievous, overactive Mirela demands all of Jane’s attention, 15-year-old Lauren, Jane and Pat’s oldest, struggles with boredom like a “low-grade illness” and falls under the sway of her charismatic, manipulative drama teacher, Ted Smith. Meanwhile, Jane begins participating in demonstrations outside an abortion clinic and finds herself in the limelight for her role in an altercation during a blockade—and for her difficulty with Mirela, who wanders off during the pandemonium. Meanwhile, Ted and Lauren become increasingly intimate, and Jane intervenes in surprising ways. Jane’s narration can be a bit slow and tedious, but the novel takes off when it switches to Lauren’s point of view, building tension as Lauren finds her way through a difficult situation. Though the novel feels a bit schematic at times, Winter’s surprisingly complex characters make it worthwhile. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Mar.)