"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Swift Pure Cry


A Swift Pure Cry
Author: Siobhan Dowd
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN-10: 0385751087
ISBN-13: 978-0385751087

A Swift Pure Cry is the poignant and heart wrenching tale of Shell, a 15 year old girl growing up in Ireland. Her mother has died and Shell bears the responsibility of raising her siblings and trying to handle her drunken and obsessively religious father. They live on money he skims off of donations for the Church. Shell attempts to go to the church for support and is seen with a new, young priest. Shell is so out of touch with no mother, that it takes a girlfriend to tell her she needs a bra and then they set off to steal one. That scene broke my heart.

Her best friend is angry with her for no apparent reason and her only joy seems to come from her moments with her boyfriend, Declan in a barley field. Shell becomes pregnant and armed only with a stolen library book, she struggles to understand what to expect from her pregnancy while hiding it from her father and the village. Meanwhile, Declan (not the nicest guy in the world) has taken off for America and Shell’s friend has left town.

Shell’s courage and strength shine throughout the book as she struggles to live with her mother’s death, take care of her siblings and get through her pregnancy. She loves her baby and it seems to be a bright spot in the usual drudgery and hopelessness of her days. Eventually, her siblings catch on and become equally involved in her pregnancy all the while hiding it from the alcoholic father.

In an emotional and graphic scene, Shell gives birth to a stillborn baby girl. Another dead baby is found in a cave and the authorities take Shell in thinking it was her baby. Gossip starts in the small village and the new priest is thought to be the father.

Dowd’s lyrical prose and sensitivity to her subject makes this gut wrenching book a fine read. She gives the reader a sense of Ireland, the life in Shell’s village and most of all, the inner turmoil and hopes and dreams of this young girl. A Swift Pure Cry is one of my best books so far in 2007 and is highly recommended.

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