Spoilers ahead for Dear Child. Early in German author Romy Hausmann’s 2019 novel, Dear Child (aka Liebes Kind), a woman is hit by a car near the German-Czech border. Upon searching the surrounding forest, police discover a windowless cabin that the woman had been confined to with two children, Hannah and Jonathan, and begin to piece together that the accident victim is Lena Black, a college student who’d been missing for 14 years. When Lena’s father, Matthias, arrives at the hospital, however, he insists that the young woman is not his daughter — but there’s a twist.
DNA tests confirm that Hannah, who looks identical to the real Lena, and Jonathan are Matthias’s biological grandchildren. But who is the woman claiming to be their mother? Through a series of twists and turns, the psychological thriller (which Netflix adapted into a six-part German-language miniseries) eventually reveals what really happened. A man named Lars Rogner abducted the real Lena, locked her in the secluded cabin for years, and forced her to be his wife and birth his children. After welcoming Hannah and Jonathan, Lena gave birth to their third child, but they both passed away shortly afterward.
A devastated Lars, who claimed to truly love Lena, kidnapped another woman named Jasmin Grass — the car accident victim — to effectively “replace” Lena and assume her identity. Jasmin adopted the role for four months in captivity in order to survive, but was able to knock Lars unconscious with a snow globe and escape with Hannah. That’s when the car hit her near the house, though, and Lars was able to catch up to Hannah and give her instructions on how they could all be together again in the coming weeks.
Despite still grappling with the physical and psychological effects of what she’d experienced, Jasmin convinces the police she’s stable enough to return home. Once back in her apartment, Jasmin realizes the profound psychological toll the abduction had really taken, while remaining fearful of leaving her home and struggling to maintain a grasp on reality. She also begins receiving menacing letters in the mail, only exacerbating her anxiety.
Meanwhile, a grieving Matthias convinces his wife, Karin, to allow Hannah to move in with them, essentially doing something similar to what Lars did by using the young girl to replace his missing Lena. In addition to interfering with the police investigation, Matthias also dismisses Karin’s concerns that Hannah clearly needs more psychological evaluation.
One night, though, Matthias realizes that Hannah had escaped with her father and follows them to Jasmin's apartment, where he discovers that he knows Lena’s captor. After Lars locks them all in the apartment, he calls to Matthias’ attention that they’re not actually so different. To save their lives, Jasmin fatally stabs Lars in the stomach. Hannah and Jonathan receive the care they need, and Matthias — who’s haunted by Lars’ statement about their similarities — fights the urge to take back his granddaughter.
To give voice to Lena, Hausmann added an epilogue in which the character explains how she found ways to manipulate Lars and that she had hoped her children would escape the cabin someday. Meanwhile, Matthias also admits that he was the person leaving threatening notes in Jasmin’s mailbox, hoping to get answers about his daughter’s disappearance.
In a September 2020 Indies Introduce Q&A, the author described how she put the Dear Child ending together. “Although I let the story — and especially the characters — guide me, my feeling on how everything has to end establishes itself very early on,” explained Hausmann, who drew inspiration from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. “Sometimes I even have the vague thought of the ending before I know how to start the story. . . . I knew from the start I was going to write this particular epilogue because the person from whose point of view it is written shouldn’t just remain a victim. I would have found that unfair.”