Shea, Sandra

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SHEA, Sandra




Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Company, Trade Division, Adult Editorial, Eighth Floor, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.


Journalist and author. Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement, Boston, MA, founding editor; Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia, PA, began as editorial staff member, became editor.


The Realm of Secondhand Souls (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

Also author of book reviews for the Boston Globe.


When literary agent Colleen Mohyde brokered a deal to publish Sandra Shea's first novel, it was, as she told Susan Bickelhaupt and Maureen Dezell in the Boston Globe, "unusual, because publishers rarely buy an unfinished novel by a new author." Written under the working title Novena, Shea's book was published in 2000 as The Realm of Secondhand Souls. It tells the story of Novena, who has a magical sixth sense that allows her to touch objects and see into the lives of the people who once owned them. Commenting on the novel in the Weekly Wire, Jumana Farouky noted, "The mood is steeped in the magic realism of South American literature, and the story is embroidered with passages from ancient texts. Objects contain memories; time is vague."

In the novel, Novena goes to live with an aunt and four male cousins at the age of four after her mother dies. One of her cousins, Zan, drives into a river with Novena's friend, who drowns. But Zan's body is not found, and Novena eventually learns the truth behind her friend's death. The novel follows nineteen years of Novena's life and her efforts to bring to light her knowledge about Zan and the "accident." But Novena's life is dominated by her powers to sense the intrinsic knowledge contained by inanimate objects. These powers also allow her to reconnect with the memory of her mother.

Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Robert Allen Papinchak called The Realm of Secondhand Souls "richly rewarding." He also commented, "With prose that shimmers and fully developed characters who will remain in the reader's memory a long time, Shea's debut novel brilliantly explores the 'helpless love of family that binds us all.'" On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly critic felt that Shea's novel was full of "platitudes" and that "Shea's mannered prose fails to add resonance [to] her story." But other critics assessed the book more favorably. For example, Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido noted that Shea uses "language both exquisite and fey," calling the novel "an oddly powerful story, requiring considerable suspension of disbelief." Writing in Library Journal, Caroline M. Hallsworth noted, "This is Shea's first novel, but she is clearly a deft writer who crafts each image with skill and care."

Although she has worked for more than twenty years in the field of journalism, Shea told Farouky in a Weekly Wire interview that the book "was a lovely release from the horror of daily newspapering." She concluded, "I think that newspapers are about facts, but fiction is about the truth."



Booklist, December 15, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Realm of Secondhand Souls, p. 758.

Boston Globe, April 6, 1996, Susan Bickelhaupt and Maureen Dezell, "Names & Faces," p. 18.

Library Journal, December, 1999, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of The Realm of Secondhand Souls, p. 188.

New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2000, Anderson Tepper, review of The Realm of Secondhand Souls, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1999, review of The Realm of Secondhand Souls, p. 54.

Washington Post Book World, March 19, 2000, Robert Allen Papinchak, review of The Realm of Secondhand Souls, p. 13.


Philadelphia Daily News, (August 31, 2002), Melissa Su, "Budding Novelists Display the Write Stuff."

Weekly Wire, (April 10, 2000), Jumana Farouky, "Object Lessons: An Interview with Sandra Shea."*