The Unfinished Child

By Theresa Shea

The Unfinished Child
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Finalist for a 2014 Alberta Literary Award
Shortlisted for the 2014Edmonton Public Library Alberta Readers' Choice Award

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 ... Read more


Finalist for a 2014 Alberta Literary Award
Shortlisted for the 2014Edmonton Public Library Alberta Readers' Choice Award

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.

Theresa Shea

Theresa Shea has published poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and articles in a number of Canadian magazines and journals including Queen’s Quarterly, Grain and the Edmonton Journal, and she is a regular contributor to Avenue Magazine (Edmonton). A graduate of McGill and Queen’s Universities, she holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of Alberta. Born in Maryland and raised throughout the United States, she now lives in Edmonton. Follow Theresa on Twitter at @sheatheresa.


A complex and sensitive debut . . . A gripping climax, raising compelling questions about moral responsibility in a 21st-century world. —Publishers Weekly

Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Thought-provoking. Riveting. Haunting. Unputdownable . . . A must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling. —Turn the Page, blog

An insightfully sensitive presentation of the difficult, impossible, heart breaking and sometimes rewarding challenges of what most soon-to-be parents never allow themselves to consider. —Behind the Hedge, blog

In The Unfinished Child, Theresa Shea trains her compassionate eye on the heartbreaking pressures and counter-pressures felt by the woman who has conceived a child with Down Syndrome. The novel is the debut of a gifted and sensitive writer, and one who has important things to say. —Merna Summers

The Unfinished Child is a compelling, unflinching portrayal of the complexities of motherhood and family. —Jacqueline Baker

The Unfinished Child is a heart wrenching and honest story. Shea's exploration of the lives of those affected by Down syndrome is unexpected, well-researched, and hopeful. —Canadian Down Syndrome Society

Theresa Shea tells an important story of womanhood, motherhood, and friendship. I read The Unfinished Child in a weekend and was sad to say goodbye to the characters after I put the book down; they left a deep imprint on my soul. I love it when a book affects me that way. —Gail Williamson, Founder/Director of Down Syndrome in Arts & Media

A sensitively drawn and well-researched first novel about the complexities of women’s lives . . . Shea doesn’t provide easy answers, but shows us what women faced and face, in fluid, beautiful language. —Alberta Views

"I recommend this book to any woman, mom or not. It's such a fascinating story of womanhood, parenting, marriage, friendship and self doubt. So excellent. " —Sara's Organized Chaos

"This is not only a must read for parents of special needs children, but for anyone who has faced struggles in their lives and have fought to overcome them. " —Book Mama Blog

"The Unfinished Child is a book about the decisions women face, the ones they must live with, and how societal views of Down Syndrome have changed over time. More than that, it’s about the complexities of friendship and the realization that maybe not everything is forever. " —The Book Wheel

The Halifax Reader includes The Unfinished Child on their list of Canadian books to watch for in early 2013.

"The Unfinished Child is a heartwrenching and heartbreaking read that also asks so many difficult questions. It makes an absolutely perfect discussion piece for any book club. " —Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity

Quill & Quire includes The Unfinished Child on their Spring preview for 2013.

"Theresa Shea has hit a home run with her debut novel. " —Chronicles . . .

"One powerful read. " —Lovely Bookshelf

"The Unfinished Child is a powerful, sensitively-told tale. " —Read Lately

"Well written and insightful . .. The Unfinished Child gave me a lot to think about, which is another way to say I loved it. I really enjoyed how it gave different perspectives on Down Syndrome children, and I especially appreciated the story of Margaret, which gave an overview of how people suffering from Trisomy 21 were (mis)treated in the past, and how it changed through the years. A great novel about tolerance and acceptance. " —Angelique, Maple Books

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