The Perfect Child by Lucinda Berry is a somewhat disturbing psychological thriller if the reader can buy into the incredible stupidity and naivete of two important characters, Christopher and Hannah Bauer, the parents of an adopted child, Janie. This is a story of domestic abuse, terror, and torture both physical and psychological. The terrorist, in this case, is Janie, a child that looks two or three years old at the time of adoption. A medical examination will reveal that the Bauers have adopted a six-year-old child who is very, very disturbed. Janie had lived in a closet where she had been confined and tortured for an indeterminate number of her years by her mother, Becky. Somehow, she had escaped from the closet and was found wandering in a park. She was filthy, covered with cuts, rashes, and bruises and wore a dog collar around her neck. Janie was taken to a hospital where both the Bauers worked. Christopher, a surgeon would spend many hours in corrective surgery followed by a lot of time spent at Janie’s bedside. Eventually, Chris would introduce Janie to Hannah, a nurse in the same hospital. Janie had a crush on or was in love with Dr. Bauer and could only sleep when Christopher was around. Christopher was completely taken in by Janie’s displays of trust and affection. Janie did not care for Hannah and was clearly hostile to Christopher’s wife.
Christopher and Hannah had wanted a child for many years. They had initially put it off until they were secure in their careers and when they finally decided it was time, it seemed it might be too late for success. A fertility specialist rated their chances of getting pregnant very low, so low that the specialist had suggested adoption. After a lengthy period and intense Google searches, the two had agreed that adoption was the way to go. Hannah was within a year or two of menopause. Her depression about never having a “complete” family recurred frequently when in the presence of sister Allison who had two boisterous children who filled Allison’s days. It will not surprise readers that a situation will come about where Janie’s need for a home, Christopher’s unbelievable affection for Janie, and Hannah’s acceptance of the girl, possibly to please her husband, will converge. Janie will live in the Bauer home and will eventually assume the Bauer name as the adoption is completed.
When Janie appeared at the hospital, police were called. Although Janie would not answer direct questions, police did get enough answers which led to the discovery of the family trailer and evidence of Janie’s incarceration in a closet for years. Janie certainly would not be released to return to such a home so Social Service workers were called in to evaluate her and begin the process of finding her a place to live once released from the hospital. This leads to how much of the story is presented. Piper Goldstein is a social worker assigned to find a home for Janie. Piper is a family friend to Christopher and Hannah. Piper observes the growing fondness and even love from Christopher to Janie. Piper also observes a coldness from Janie toward Hannah and a feeling of suspicion by Hannah toward Janie. Hannah believes that Janie is cold, calculating, and malicious. The reader will eventually feel this also. Janie is truly a monster and horrible events will play out. An unfortunate victim of all this will be Social Worker Piper. Investigators Ron and Luke will blame and accuse Piper of failure to carry out her duties. According to the investigators, Piper’s failure was responsible for the horrors that followed. The sixty-one chapters of the book are titled, “Hannah Baur,” “Christopher Bauer,” or “Interview with Piper Goldstein.”
Janie’s behavior in the hospital would have guaranteed that I would never adopt her. Intense periods of demanding screaming toward everyone except Dr. Christopher alternated with periods of adamant refusal to talk to anyone or even acknowledge the presence of others. Janie was damaged by her traumas and deserved treatment but releasing her for foster care and eventual adoption by the Bauers illustrated an incompetent treatment system. Janie would continue her behavior in the Bauer home. Her screams led to Dr. Bauer sleeping on the floor next to her; it was the only way she would sleep. Janie refused to be potty trained and would urinate and defecate everywhere in the house. Constantly. Once this training took hold, she was enrolled in school, but Janie didn’t want to go. She would resume the urination and defecation routine at school. Her contributions in Art class were made using her feces. Once she was kicked out of school, her behavior at home became briefly more acceptable. Through all this behavior, Janie would immediately correct herself if directed to do so by Christopher but would take outrage to a new height at suggestions by Hannah.
Christopher worked in a hospital by day. In the evening, he met only the manageable Janie. Hannah never met the manageable Janie. The couple bought Janie a cat which Janie loved. But Janie also loved sticking pins in the cat to watch it bleed. The ever-tolerant Christopher asked why she did it. Janie answered that she loved to hurt others, both animal and human, so she could watch reactions to pain. One of her expulsions at school was because she shoved her best friend of play equipment breaking an arm in two places. Christopher excused all behavior due to Janie’s past and suggested trying different therapists to attack behavior problems in different ways. Hannah went along with this and this is the part I find difficult to believe. Christopher is a trained doctor and Hannah has years of experience in a hospital as a nurse who has experience in a trauma ward. I have no sympathy for the dilemma these two got themselves in and then allowed the situation to grow ever worse.
As horrible situation after horrible situation continues, there is an inevitable new threat on the horizon. Hannah finally gets pregnant. What follows is almost predictable, but the number of lives ruined amazed me. This is a five-star Amazon read but was a difficult read for me as a parent. I could only look back on my children and be happy I didn’t face such horrors. But I also wondered what I would do if I had faced such problems. I know I would not have reacted in any way like Christopher Bauer, Hannah Bauer, or her married sister Allison.
This novel sells for USD 4.99 and is available for free on Kindle Unlimited. I paid USD 1.99 through a Kindle First Reads program.