The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

The Unfinished Child by Theresa SheaThe Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea
Published by Brindle & Glass on March 19, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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Finalist for the Alberta Fiction Award and the Alberta Readers' Choice Award. A word-of-mouth bestseller, Theresa Shea's first book explores female friendships, prenatal testing, infertility, and Down syndrome. Shea tackles a complex moral issue with great sensitivity. This is a must read not only for parents in the Down syndrome community but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling.
When Marie MacPherson, a mother of two, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at thirty-nine, she feels guilty. Her best friend, Elizabeth, has never been able to conceive, despite years of fertility treatments. Marie's dilemma is further complicated when she becomes convinced something is wrong with her baby. She then enters the world of genetic testing and is entirely unprepared for the decision that lies ahead.
Intertwined throughout the novel is the story of Margaret, who gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome in 1947, when such infants were defined as "unfinished" children. As the novel shifts back and forth through the decades, the lives of the three women converge, and the story speeds to an unexpected conclusion.
With skill and poise, debut novelist Theresa Shea dramatically explores society's changing views of Down syndrome over the past sixty years. The story offers an unflinching and compassionate history of the treatment of people with Down syndrome and their struggle for basic human rights. Ultimately, The Unfinished Child is an unforgettable and inspiring tale about the mysterious and complex bonds of family, friendship, and motherhood.


Only ten pages into The Unfinished Child, my heart was already in my throat. I could tell this was going to be one powerful read.

The novel tells the story of three women: Marie MacPherson, mother of two and unexpectedly pregnant at age 39; her best friend, Elizabeth, infertile for years despite treatments; and Margaret, whose daughter was born with Down syndrome in 1947. Their experiences finally converge in a shocking conclusion that lingers well after setting the book down.

Shea writes with such incredible care and sensitivity, I felt connected to each of these characters on a deeply personal level; whether I’d faced their struggles or not. Little details as simple as putting the word “failed” in quotes when speaking of infertility (“failed” to conceive)…yes, Shea gets it.

This is a confronting book in many ways. It addresses immensely challenging moral issues, especially ones unique to women, and contains a side that is absolutely horrifying. I’m not sure I can think of many other fiction writers who’ve shown the level of compassion that Shea does here. She drew me into her characters’ lives. I watched their situations unfold as if they were happening to dear friends. I felt for them even when they made choices I would never make myself.

Novels that do this are so important! This is the kind of story that helps us understand one another. It will resonate with anyone who has considered the issues that arise with adoption, infertility, a surprise pregnancy, special needs children, and the complicated relationships between women and among family. The Unfinished Child will move you and give you a multitude of things to think about long after you finish reading. Best book I’ve read so far this year.