Winner of the 2020 Guernica Prize for Literary Fiction
When the lies of thirteen-year-old Ellie Turner cause a black man’s lynching in 1930s Florida, her younger sister Mavis begins to question the family's long-held beliefs about race. At the same time, the novel focuses on the courageous story of Sliver, a black midwife whose love for her grandson forces her to flee to Washington DC with the child, and Mavis, in tow. As the novel progresses through the decades, the lives of the three women merge and troubling family secrets are revealed.
The Shade Tree is a dramatic exploration of racial injustice and conflict set against the backdrop of some of America's most turbulent historical events. The lives of two white sisters and a black midwife are inextricably linked through a series of haunting tragedies, and the characters must make difficult, life-changing decisions about where their loyalties lie: with their biological families or with a greater moral cause. From a Florida orange grove to the seat of power in Washington, DC, during the height of the civil rights movement, The Shade Tree tells a sweeping yet intimate story of racial discrimination and the human hunger for justice.
Theresa Shea’s debut novel, The Unfinished Child, was a word of mouth best-seller. A popular book club selection, the novel was nominated for several awards and sold over 12,000 copies. The Shade Tree, winner of the 2020 Guernica Prize for best novel manuscript, is her much-anticipated follow-up. Born in the United States, Shea moved to Canada as a teenager in 1977. She lives, parents, and writes in Edmonton.
Mavis sifted through her information alone, looking at it from a variety of angles, depending on the day, and coming up with different interpretations. At church, the preacher talked about charity and forgiveness as if he practiced both himself, but Mavis remembered the look of greed on his face as he pushed forward to claim the last piece of Mrs. Dumfrey’s lemon cheesecake at the picnic that wasn’t a picnic at all, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening around them.
In its account of almost half a century in the lives of two white Southern sisters and of the African Americans whose experiences are inextricable from theirs, The Shade Tree is brutally personal, heartbreakingly political – and remarkably written. Theresa Shea has combined boldness and subtlety with swaths of compassion to come up with a novel that's both complicated and ferociously clear.
— Joan Barfoot, Booker and Scotiabank Giller prizes nominee, and author of Abra, Luck, and Critical Injuries
Theresa Shea’s The Shade Tree reminds me thematically of Lee’s novel. It, too, is set in the south of the States in a similar, though far more expansive, time period; it follows the lives of two young white girls – sisters – coming of age and exploring their positions in the world as white, as women, and as white women. Where the novel differs from Lee’s, though, is that it gives Sliver Lanier, a Black midwife, a voice of her own.
— Earthly Abode
In her nuanced portrait of families riven by race and sex, Theresa Shea offers a searing indictment of Jim Crow’s corrosive influence that, if unleashed and unquestioned, can make monsters of us all. Beautifully and unflinchingly written, this is a novel for our times.
— Terry Gamble, Author of The Water Dancers, Good Family, and The Eulogist
An emotional, complex work that presents difficult, important questions at a high level of craft.
— —Guernica Prize Jurors Cyril Dabydeen, Margo LaPierre, and Matt Murphy