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Unseen City

Winner of the 2021 IPPY Gold Medal in Literary Fiction!

Unseen City (Red Hen Press, 2020) is a multi-generational portrait of New York and the unexpected connections between a lonely Brooklyn librarian, a widower returning to his roots, and a ghost still lingering in a home that was once part of an activist-founded farming settlement.

In a city teeming with stories, how do lost souls find one another? It’s a question Meg Rhys doesn’t think she’s asking. Meg is a self-identified spinster librarian, satisfied with living with her cat, stacks of books, and her dead sister’s ghost in her New York City apartment. Then she becomes obsessed with an intriguing library patron and the haunted house he’s trying to research. The house has its own story to tell too, of love and war, of racism’s fallout and the ghost story that is gentrification, and of Brooklyn before it was Brooklyn. What follows is an exploration of what home is, how we live with loss, who belongs in the city and to whom the city belongs, and the possibilities and power of love.

Unseen City was chosen as The Nervous Breakdown's September Book Club pick; included on Hidden Timbers Books' list of Small Press Books We Love, CLMP's 2020 roundup, The Roadrunner Review's Best Books of 2020 list, Always With a Book's Best of 2020 list, Apartment Therapy's Best Fall Books list; and recommended as a book that should be on everyone's radar by Writer's Bone.

Buy Unseen City directly from the publishers, Red Hen Press, here.

Unseen City is also available as an audiobook.

Unseen City has been translated in to Russian, and will soon be distributed by Russian publishers Polyandria NoAge!

A percentage of the proceeds from Unseen City goes to the Weeksville Heritage Center. Please visit their site and support their mission of preserving the unique history of Weeksville.


"Luminous...The presence of ghosts is easily believable, helped along by the characters’ shared sense of grief. Shearn’s nimble storytelling unearths a fascinating and fraught history."—Publishers Weekly

"Like the ghosts who inhabit its pages, the novel lingers long after you’ve put it down."—Kirkus Reviews

"Amy Shearn’s modern fable Unseen City is anchored by smart, sly humor. It delves into the layered social, psychological, and historical architecture of New York City, a place that’s paved over the bones of its dead, who are transmuted by needs of the living or clarified by their own unmet demands. Somewhere between the two poles lies the finite present, a co-constructed mythology that’s revealed to be volatile, and as susceptible to emotional anesthesia as it is to radical hope."—Foreword Reviews

"The Brooklyn writer Shearn’s most recent novels rely on magical realism to open up unexpected layers of New York, and her lighthearted touch belies a serious fascination with how the city works...As keepers of both personal memory and a place’s history, the ghosts of Unseen City continually resurface to tell their own stories as well as those of their homes."-The Atlantic

"A librarian, a ghost, and New York city walk into a book—and there you have a recipe for what I never realized is my perfect novel, Unseen City. What can be described as a love letter to New York, Amy Shearn’s novel serves as a romantic, haunting story that weaves together the metropolitan behemoth’s past and present."—Apartment Therapy's Best Fall Books


"Amy Shearn's new novel Unseen City showcases her estimable storytelling skills and is a vivid portrait of life in New York City."—Largehearted Boy 

"A poignant tale exploring how we deal with loss and loneliness, Unseen City is steeped in joy, melancholy, and hope."—Bas Bleu

"Funny, spooky, sad, and yet hopeful, Amy Shearn’s Unseen City is at times a family drama, a ghost story, a commentary on race relations, an intense flirtation, and a love letter to Brooklyn. It’s a book of contrasts: the very real world of modern Brooklyn and a long-ago past in the same location. Odd
juxtapositions are woven together to create a compelling novel that combines the mysterious past with the relatable present, creating a story that is heartbreaking while also being full of wit and laugh-out-loud zingers."-Rain Taxi Review of Books

"As librarians, we could not help but drool over this clever, well-researched ode to New York City, with a self-declared spinster librarian as heroine...This is a book about never-ending change, a contemplation about gentrification, nostalgia, loss and, above all mourning. Lost souls, dead and alive, roam these pages and remind us of the forgotten stories our homes have to tell. Shearn’s observations are as funny as they are accurate and you will find yourself wanting to mark a sentence on every page."-24 Symbol's Best 12 Books of the Year 


"I found myself completely absorbed within the elastic walls of this narrative, wanting to fall into the folds of the book and research right along with Meg and Ellis...Seriously: goosebumps. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s touching…and really quite brilliant. Like all 5-star reads, this one makes me want to write. It makes me want more – more books like this, images of Weeksville. I lust for details." -Always With a Book

"Everything I love about novels is encapsulated in Unseen City. The rhythms of the prose, the believability of every character, the layers of history, the accuracy of its present time scenes. I feel like I will from now on be aware that my house, my property, my town within my city, has all those layers of history beneath it."-Keep the Wisdom

"Unseen City draws parallels between the present and the past, the time of the old ghosts and newer ones. Civil War-era draft riots in which Irish immigrants lynched free Blacks and burned their homes are paralleled by Brooklyn’s racial tensions of the recent past and present-day. New ghosts created to cohabit the city with the ghosts of the past."-Future Cartographic

"Meg is a lovely character whose quirks and thoughts dance across the page. The historical context that Shearn proffers her readers is fascinating...

An excellent read. You won’t be disappointed." -Shelf Media

"Unseen City is a beautifully written, philosophical exploration of grief, how people are shaped by the places they live, and how those places in turn bear the marks of generations past. The novel’s dual narrative--which switches between Meg’s story in present-day New York and that of Ellis’ family home in Civil War-era Brooklyn--is engrossing, and Shearn’s witty writing style makes you laugh in some unexpected places. But what really sets the book apart is how empathetically it depicts the lives (and afterlives) of New Yorkers past and present. Every character feels so real that by the time you finish reading, you, like Meg, might start believing that ghosts do exist all around us, just waiting for their own stories to be told." -Lincoln Library


“Gripping, moving, and vital, Unseen City asks how human life might defy its lifespan—in the throes of love, the conviction of belief, and each person's mark upon a city that will survive them. For two days, I laughed at Amy Shearn's wry humor and gasped at her gorgeous sentences; I couldn't put this brilliant book down until its perfect final line (and I'm haunted still—which is appropriate, I suppose)!”—Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, bestselling author of June and Bittersweet

“Atmospheric, poignant, well-observed, and sneakily funny, Amy Shearn's Unseen City is one from the heart, an absorbing read for all those who love Brooklyn, great writing, and the human spirit.”—Kevin Baker, bestselling author of The Big Crowd and America the Ingenious

​“If Amy Shearn’s fiction is as much fun to write as it is to read, that’s welcome news because it’s impossible to read her novels without wanting more, more, more. In true Shearn style, Unseen City is whip-smart, hilarious, and also deeply touching, and this story about mismatched New Yorkers finding common ground in a city they’ve decided—come hell or higher rent—to adore, will delight and charm you long after the last page.”—Courtney Maum, author of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You and Touch and founder of the learning collaborative, The Cabins.

“In Unseen City Amy Shearn has written a sad and funny and profound book. This is a novel about grief and human connection, about today and yesterday. And it is damn hard to put down.”—Darin Strauss, bestselling author of Half a Life and More Than It Hurts You

“I wish I had written this book. I wish I could publish this book tomorrow. It's smart, funny, and gorgeously written. I am in awe.”—Julia Fierro, author of The Gypsy Moth Summer and Cutting Teeth, and director of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop

Unseen City is a bold take on the way that history binds us and how our stories are woven into and overlap in the very interstices of the city. It is an entrancing story of falling in and out of love and grief with a city, a person, a home.”—Naomi Jackson, award-winning author of The Star Side of Bird Hill

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