The Unfinished Child

By (author): Theresa Shea
ISBN 9781927366028
Softcover | Publication Date: March 19, 2013
Book Dimensions: 5.5 in x 8.5 in
312 Pages

About the Book

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.

About the Author(s)

Theresa Shea has published poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and articles in a number of Canadian magazines and journals. Born in Maryland and raised throughout the United States, she moved to Canada in 1977 and currently lives with her husband and three children in Edmonton, Alberta.


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

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

“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 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

“Shea is a gifted writer with a deft hand. Each woman has a distinctive voice and seems life-like, complicated and flawed. One of the strengths of the novel is the way it addresses some many topics and issues; female friendships, Down syndrome, pregnancy and the way people approach birth and life. It’s also a book about secrets, and how keeping secrets can hurt relationships. It’s a novel about motherhood and family, and the choices people make.” —Daily Herald Tribune

“Shea doesn’t provide easy answers, but shows us what women faced and face, in fluid, beautiful language. The Unfinished Child is wonderfully and determinedly set in Edmonton: An Edmontonian will walk down Jasper Avenue and go to lunch at Da-De-Os with Shea’s characters as easily as a New Yorker stalks Manhattan with Dorothy Parker or Susan Sontag.” —Alberta Views

“I recommend f to any mother or woman who wishes to become a mother; however, anyone who reads it will be compelled to identify with these troubled characters and their overarching dilemmas, and consequently develop empathy for the real-life Carolyns, Margarets, Elizabeths, and Maries. Although the story is largely delivered from a female perspective, male readers will still be emotionally and intellectually stimulated by The Unfinished Child, especially those with a personal connection to someone either living with a disability or dealing with genetic testing. The novel broadened my awareness of the problems with genetic screening and the profound purpose of people with disabilities; Theresa Shea will surely have more to teach us in her future work.” —Winnipeg Review