Published by Brindle and Glass on March 19, 2013
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I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours.
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In 1947, a young woman named Margaret gave birth to a mongoloid and had her institutionalized. Fast forward to present day and Marie, age, 39, finds out she’s pregnant and has the option to undergo genetic testing to ensure her baby is normal. Meanwhile, Marie’s best friend since childhood, Elizabeth, is only recently coming to terms with her infertility, making their friendship fairly tenuous and adding to Marie’s guilt about the decisions she must make when she gets a hunch that something’s wrong with her baby. 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.
This book is hard to review because it’s beautifully written and tackles a difficult topic. I think it’s an excellent book for parents who have been faced with these difficult decisions or have watched a friend struggle with infertility. However, I am neither of these people, so it was hard for me to relate to the characters. I found myself annoyed at Marie’s distant and self-involved approach to everything in her life, which left me more sympathetic to Elizabeth than the woman with the difficult decisions to make. Part of this is because the book has minimal information about what it’s like to raise a child with Down Syndrome (other than the doom and gloom outlook of the 1940’s), so unless you’ve witnessed it first hand, it’s hard to fathom the complex nature of Marie’s options.
That said, I raced through the sections set in 1940’s and 50’s. While it wasn’t news to me that children with Down Syndrome were often institutionalized in horrible conditions, Shea paints such a vivid picture that it’s hard not to recoil at what humans are capable of inflicting onto other humans. I found Margaret, the woman who gave up her daughter in 1947, to be the most fascinating and sympathetic character in the book. Given the historical context and her lack of options at the time, I felt more compassion for her than anyone else.
Although I’m not the target audience for this novel, I enjoyed reading it. It’s beautifully written and provides an overview of the decisions women face in today’s age of prenatal genetic testing. It’s more about the limits of friendship than anything else, so women’s fiction fans will absolutely adore it and I have no doubt The Unfinished Child will become a book club favorite.