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Review: A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd

in a sentence or so: Shell's mam died a year ago. she and her brother, her sister, and her dad have been hobbling along ever since...until Father Rose comes to town and changes the way Shell experiences her life without her mam in the world.

Shell is 15 and raising her brother and sister on her own. sure, her dad is around, but he's either drunk or off collecting for the church's charity (and pocketing some for his booze). on the rare occasion that he is home, he orders Shell and siblings to pick rocks in the field (that he never plows), eats, and passes out. then, one Sunday during mass, Shell discovers a new priest in the pulpit. Father Rose is kind, warm, genuine, and fills Shell with a sense of purpose and love that she hadn't felt in a year.

things seemed to be going well for Shell - Father Rose giving her a new hope and purpose in life, her best friend Bridie and friend Delcan Ronan as solid school companions, and she was balancing being nice to her siblings while raising them at the same time. then, as soon as things become great, they turn sour. Bridie up and leaves without explaining to Shell why she's mad at her, and Declan (her eventual boyfriend) ditches, leaving Shell alone and feeling hollow. again.

i don't want to give anything away plot wise because things i expected to happen in a seemingly predictable coming-of-age-plot turned out not to be that way at all. in fact, there was even a real life gasp+hand over the mouth moment. no joke. this is still a coming of age in that Shell is 15, motherless, raising her sibs, and having to learn the hard (and incredibly awkward) way about periods, bras, and boys. even though i felt the plot was really solid and took some interesting and unexpected turns, it was the writing that really made this book shine.

the opening line -"The place brought to mind a sinking ship"- is vivid and set the tone of helplessness and struggle for the entire book. the writing style was crass and raw, yet tender and emotional. the overarching theme of emotional conflict and spiritual duplicity threaded the multiple plot points together to create a multi-faceted view of Shell and her community. ultimately, this was about Shell figuring out life in the midst of grief and loss, with hope and struggle, failure and success. the thoughtful choice of writing in the Irish vernacular to illustrate delicate and vivid images is icing on this cake. read it, you'll like it.

fave quote : "The place fell silent. Mrs Duggan led her down the aisle to the front. She saw a hundred fork-prong eyes, noses twitching, hands fluttering: like small animals salivating." (260)

fix er up: the resolution felt cyclical to me. like i wound up where i started...even though Shell was in a different place and the events shaped her.

title: A Swift Pure Cry
author: Siobhan Dowd
genre: Coming of Age, Hist Fic, Problem Novel

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. don't think i'll be reading this before i take it to the library tomorrow.

  2. i know buddy, i know. sometimes i think that our taste in literature will seldom align. but that's okay, because our taste in movies frequently does. and we are besties.

  3. What a sad story about Shell!!! i feel very sad for her and i wish her soul will get peace..
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