BOOK TOUR REVIEW: The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

The Unfinished Child

by Theresa Shea

Women’s Fiction

Book Description

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.




****This review contains heavy spoilers.  I couldn’t get myself to write it without them.  I do apologize, and please do not scroll if you do not want the book’s plot laid out for you!****






The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

I had to sleep on it before I wrote my review of this book, because I didn’t want it to sound too scathing. Unfortunately, when I woke up and got ready to write this I was probably more angry about it than I was the night before.

The book, as it says in the synopsis, is supposed to be a tale about how having a child with Down’s Syndrome affects the lives of 3 different women. But, we don’t even meet a woman who is RAISING a child with DS, let alone get to know the child herself!

As the book begins, we open on the story of 22 year old Margaret, who has just given birth to a daughter with Down’s in 1947. In those days, the horrific reality was that DS children were not brought home to be raised. They were sent to a home or asylum for others like them where they received little to no personal care and attention. Margaret sends her daughter off at the bequest of her doctor, but wrestles with the decision.

In 2002, 39 year old Marie has learned that she is pregnant, but immediately feels guilt about it because her best friend Elizabeth has been through every fertility treatment there is but has still not been able to conceive. Marie learns the baby has Down’s, and when she tells Elizabeth, she offers to take the child if Marie decides she does not want it.

Here is my main issue with this novel: if the plot is supposed to show how far humankind has come in its’ treatment and acceptance of Down’s children, it fails massively. In 1947 the children were sent away, and in 2002 a woman decides to end the life of her unborn baby. How is this any better?? I know the story takes place in Canada, and maybe they are a lot more passe about abortion, but Down’s Syndrome is in no way a disorder that is an immediate death sentence for your child. Marie receives no counseling or guidance about her options, and makes her decision way too quickly, almost out of spite because of what her best friend offered. Abortion in and of itself will not make me instantly dislike a book, but in this instance I thought the ending of this baby’s life was cruel and unnecessary.

Marie and Elizabeth do call themselves best friends, but to me that is a very tenuous title. They hide so much from each other, both in secret decisions and their true emotions, that the friendship doesn’t seem very beneficial to either one of them. Maybe they were growing apart, but neither one of them could accept the fact and they seemed to only want to continue their friendship because it had in fact been going on so long.

I was pleased that Elizabeth found out the truth about where she came from, but it all was very contrite and absolutely unrealistic. What are the chances that her maternal grandfather had been coming into her shop for years and she never realized?

I don’t really have much more to say about this book, because I could go on and on about the ethics of it, but in and of itself the writing was not that great. It is mentioned so many times that Marie is 20 pounds overweight–OK, yes, we get it. There are also needless paragraphs that got skipped over…I don’t need to read the step by step account of how Elizabeth made an omelet for her husband.

In my opinion, this book does nothing to show the true nature of Down’s Syndrome in the world and how far we have come in the past century. The negative side of the disorder is focused on entirely too much–no mention is made that Down’s children are some of the happiest and brightest spots in the lives of those they know. I do not have an “unfinished child,” but I definitely do not recommend that you read this book if you do.

View all my reviews


About the Author

Theresa Shea is a mother, novelist, freelance writer, and university lecturer. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Child, was published to favorable reviews in the spring of 2013 by Brindle & Glass.

Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, Shea has lived in Virginia, Japan, Minnesota, and Illinois. In 1977 she moved to Canada and settled in Edmonton before moving to Jasper, Montreal, Kingston, and Gibsons Landing, on British Columbia’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. However, the magnetic North keeps drawing her back, and she currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta again with her husband, three homeschooled children, and one golden retriever.

Shea attended McGill University (BA), Queen’s University (MA), and the University of Alberta (Ph.D.). The Unfinished Child draws on her experience of coming to motherhood later in life, at the age of 35, and being caught off guard by genetic counseling, prenatal testing, and the culture of fear surrounding pregnancy.

Currently, she is working on her second book, a novel set in Washington D.C. that deals with the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Learn more about Theresa and her work at, on Facebook, or on Twitter.



About Carrie

A SAHM who loves her life :)

Posted on May 26, 2014, in book tour, books, reading, review. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for taking the time to review my novel. I don’t usually respond to reviews; however, I can’t help but add a comment or two. First, let me say that this was a very difficult book to write PRECISELY because of the sensitive subject matter.

    However, the book’s ending truly reflects today’s prenatal testing culture (one that is not unique to Canada). Did you know that in 2011, Norway boasted that it would be “Down syndrome free” by 2030? And in 2013, North Dakota became the first state to ban “abortion” based on the results of prenatal testing? Obviously, these are two diametrically opposed positions. And THAT is the conversation that THE UNFINISHED CHILD enters. Both Norway’s and North Dakota’s aims are, to me, problematic.

    Also, the novel makes a clear distinction between “abortion” (I don’t want A baby) and “termination” (I don’t want THIS baby). The reality is that the vast majority of couples who have prenatal testing and discover their child has Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancy.

    What I wanted the book to do was to start a conversation. Your outrage, therefore, is hopeful.


    Theresa Shea, author of The Unfinished Child

  2. Gosh, I think you entirely missed the point of the book.

    Yes, it is horrific to think back on how babies with Down syndrome (they are not “Down’s babies” for what it’s worth) used to be institutionalized (and still are in many parts of the world), and yes, it is uncomfortable to realize that in this supposedly enlightened day and age, the majority of pregnancies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated. It’s the hard reality, though; Shea’s book certainly doesn’t make that up, it only illuminates facts.

    In your review, you say, “if the plot is supposed to show how far humankind has come in its’ treatment and acceptance of Down’s children, it fails massively.” The problem is that “The Unfinished Child” does NOT set out to “show how far humankind has come,” but rather, to illustrate that for all of our technological advancements, in many ways, we really haven’t come very far at all in how we treat people – especially people we continue to see as “defective” – , and in fact, the choices that medical advances have given us (fertility treatment, prenatal screenings, etc.) have in many ways created a whole new plethora of problems for us.

    I fear that you, as someone who admittedly does not have a child with Down syndrome, cling to stereotypes (“some of the happiest and brightest spots in the lives of those they know”), which is its own form of prejudice. Being the mother of an almost 6-year old boy with Down syndrome myself, as well as six “typical” children, I have grown extremely weary of the “happy” stereotype. I can assure you that kids with Ds have a full range of emotions and personalities and can be just as big a pain in the butt as any other kid. And as the parent of a child with Ds, and a vocal and tireless advocate, I highly recommend “The Unfinished Child” to parents of kids with Ds. It’s an excellently, intelligently written, thought-provoking story.

  3. Hi Carrie,

    Thanks for the review and for being on the tour. I think this book brings up so many important issues.

    I had to undergo prenatal testing due to “advanced maternal age” (34 at the time) and had very mixed feelings about it because of the risk involved, and because I didn’t know how I’d handle it if I found out my baby had Ds (I didn’t have to make any decisions, but sadly I lost the baby anyway, my 3rd miscarriage).

    My uncle has Ds (my mom’s brother). He has outlived his parents and now lives in assisted living paid for by Social Security. He’s almost 60, doesn’t speak and can’t dress himself without help. A friend of mine has adopted two Ds kids after having four (typical) bio kids, and another friend placed a Ds baby for adoption when we were in our early 20s.

    Another friend terminated her pregnancy after testing. She was heartbroken and I don’t judge her.

    No one is happy with the news that they’re carrying a baby with Ds. Accepting, maybe, but not thrilled. It’s a devastating diagnosis. Everyone has to walk their own path.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  1. Pingback: Theresa Shea, author of The Unfinished Child, on tour May 2014 | TLC Book Tours

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