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A Swift Pure Cry

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,166 ratings  ·  273 reviews
Ireland 1984.

After Shell's mother dies, her obsessively religious father descends into alcoholic mourning and Shell is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Her only release from the harshness of everyday life comes from her budding spiritual friendship with a naive young priest, and most importantly, her developing relationship with childhood friend, Declan, wh
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by David Fickling Books (first published March 2nd 2006)
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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,166 ratings  ·  273 reviews

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There are slight spoilers hovering around in this review… I’m going to try and not spoil it outright but if you don’t want to know anything about it… here’s the short version: read it read it read it.

“Together always. Free… And their lives ahead of them, around them, spilling from them as they screamed Whoooooooooo like three demented owls. What joy it was to be, what joy.”

Initial Final Page Thoughts.
Breath taken and hairs on the back of my neck standing up… wowowow. This book was spectacular.

Jun 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, the-ya-project
Cross-posted with my tumblr .

How can I describe "A Swift Pure Cry"? Certainly not in terms that are often applied to books.






This is the story of Shell, short for Michelle, a 16-year old girl who, in 1984, deals with the aftermath of her mother's death and the consequences of her father's drinking/religious awakening. She finds comfort in the friendship of a young pastor, Father Rose, not realizing that their interactions spike a scandal which rock
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 9th grade and up
Dowd writes beautifully with a very Irish feel to her words. This story touched me deeply especially because Shell seemed like such a real person.
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The one thing that stands out for me throughout this book is how a child is lost without its mother, compounded by a father who is absent most of the time. A lot of the things that happened would not have happened if there was a mother in the story - a depressed father, three children who only have one another for looking after, a pregnancy that happened just a little after the young teener learned about bra sizes, the death of an innocent infant.

Stories such as this one hits me to the core. It
Dec 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: babble-added
I grabbed this one up because the author of A Monster Calls, a book that a number of people held in awe, said he had worked the idea from Siobhan Dowd, who had died before being able to do so herself.

While it's lovely and flits with very large heavinesses, I think I don't connect with an essentially Irish story. There are themes that are worldwide - the parent-hunger, faith and its lack, poverty, cattiness, teen pregnancy - but how it's dealt with in that kind of community with those reactions,
Serene  Morticia
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This book made me cry. Twice.

I first read this book when I was about fifteen. The story left a huge impact on me and I never forgot it. I was worried if I reread it that I would find it not as enjoyable as the first time but I was so wrong.

The protagonist is Shell, a vivid and honest yet forgotten character. She is a wallflower in every sense of the word who is starting to bloom physically, emotionally, intellectually and beautifully.
The novel begins a year after her mother's death. I'm sur
Siobhan Dowd writes with such poignanacy about lost souls, people who struggle to survive on a daily basis. What makes me care so much about her heroes is that they are strong, they don't whine about their lot in life, they just figure out how to live anyway.

When I first began this book, I was tempted to quit when the parish priest was introduced. (Before reading a book, I try to avoid reading anything about the plot, so I can start fresh, no opinion ahead of time.)So I thought, no, not another
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky" for

After her mother died, fifteen-year-old Shell is left to take care of her younger brother and sister and her drunken father. They live in a small Irish village in a little farmhouse. Her mother's death has caused her father to drink even more than he did before, and in sudden religious zeal, he goes out daily to make his "collections." These donations are meant for the church, but he takes out more than his fair share before turnin
Rania T
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This heartbreaking, easily readable novel by the late Siobhan Dowd set in Ireland's County Cork in 1984 is deeply moving and not your usual teen novel. Do read it, not only for its heavy subject matter, but for its use of Irish dialect and culture as well.
Lesr Kew
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too real, heavy, and sad. Just not in the mood to finish. Need something more lighthearted.
Aug 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jeunes-adultes
Même si j'étais plutôt perplexe au début, je dois admettre que ce livre est très beau mais assez particulier. Il convient surtout aux jeunes et aux adultes.
Le roman aborde différent thèmes, notamment la mort, mais je n'en dirai pas plus car c'est intéressant de découvrir toute l'histoire par soi-même.

J'ai beaucoup apprécié l'héroïne, Shell, une fille de 15 ans mais qui en paraît beaucoup moins. Sa relation à la fois tendre et complice avec son frère et sa soeur est très touchante.
En fait, Shell
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very Irish book and a keeper--i.e. one I'd read again. I'm not so sure that teens are the best audience for this story of a 16-year-old girl struggling to hold her family together after her mother's untimely death and in the midst of her father's absence and alcoholism. In some ways, Shell reminded me of Hardy's Tess, an instinctual, wounded and innocent girl. Like many people one meets, she can be a cipher, a puzzle. Her loyalty to childhood friends who betray her is curious and unusual. She ...more
Beatrice Rivers
I loved reading this book. The story is a good one, the main character, Shell, being responsible for her siblings, Jimmy and Trix. Her mother had long since died, leaving her father a drunken, religious mess. But how would Shell cope?

I felt sorry for Shell all the way through the book. Her best friend isn't the nicest of people, and she had no one else to turn to but Declan. But Declan only made things worse for her. I won't give out any spoilers, but I cried when I read about Rosie.

My favourit
Allison Green
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book read like a poem. Each chapter was lyrical and arching and had a beautiful cadence. As the reader, you were immersed into Shell’s life and the crippling agony of knowing more about the world than she did. I wish I could reach through the pages of the book and shake her shoulders and hug her tight.
"Ein reiner Schrei" ist ein zartes, aber gleichzeitig sehr heftiges Buch, das offenbar mit viel Liebe geschrieben wurde. Während des Lesens konnte ich nicht anders, als die Worte in mich aufzusaugen. Siobhan Dowds Schreibstil ist sehr angenehm und außergewöhnlich. Sie schafft mit wenigen Worten beeindruckende Bilder, die in sekundenschnelle im Kopf erscheinen und dann nicht mehr verschwinden wollen. Für Gefühle benötigt sie wenige Worte - dennoch denkt man als Leser, man sei die Hauptperson. Ich ...more
Watermelon Daisy
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A Swift Pure Cry is one of my favourite books of all time.

There’s no overlooking the beauty, the perfection of this story. A book which surprised me in the most heartbreaking way, and caused me to come close to tears. I’ve noticed Siobhan Dowd always does this with her stories: starts off with a plotline which is hard to get into, has a main character I don’t particularly care about and somehow pushes me through the pages, even though I lose will to read on.

But by the end of the book, I’m close
Nov 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Bog Child remains my favorite, possibly for the hopefulness of tone. Cry is more about loss of faith - for Shell, Father Rose, Da...pretty much everyone. And I don't know that any of them find it again. The ghost in this story is Shell's mam, who died the year before, and she wanders throughout as the Bog Child does in that book, providing a glimmer of...hope is the wrong word here. Patience may be closer. There is a certain amount of patience required for hope, I suppose.

The language is still s
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the first book of Dowd's I read and it in a day or two.

It's heart-wrenching. It's such a difficult read but my god this woman makes some beautiful prose. I really felt for Shell, I just felt the raw pain of her life before me and I cried. I cried a lot.

But it was a great read.

Dowd's writing is super atmospheric and I can remember so many details from this novel. The scones Shell makes of an afternoon when she comes home from school and has nothing to do. The oppressiveness of her hom
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shell Talent is on the cusp of womanhood and trying to cope with her mother's death. The novel is set in an Ireland that is often judgemental and religion plays a major role in the small community. Shell has taken up the mother role with her two siblings, Trix and Jimmy, and is trying to cope with a wayward, often absent father. She comforts herself with dreams where she is accepted and treasured and through these she attains the reassurance she craves.

Dowd writes wonderfully of childhood naivet
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shell,a teenager in modern Ireland, is trying to raise her two siblings after her mother dies. Her father, not too stable under the best of circumstances, has really fallen apart since the death of Shell's mother. Shell is doing the best she can, but she is struggling and confused. The best thing happening for her is her on-again off-again relationship with a good looking boy from her neighborhood. It is clear to many people in her village that Shell is having a harder and harder time keeping th ...more
David Thurley
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book, along with 7 others was recommended in a Guardian article as young adult fiction that everyone should read. I read it yesterday and was emotionally drained when I finished it. It is the story of the Tallent family set in southern Ireland in 1984. Shell's (Michelle's) mother has died and Shell is left with her younger brother and sister and a father who is shattered by the death but turns to drink and 'extreme' religion. Shell keeps it all going while her father deteriorates and desert ...more
Theodore Damen
That was one of the most depressing books I have ever read. Mon dieu, could anything happy happen?
I guess not.

So the story starts off with very depressing characters. The drunk dad who doesn't work and steals from the charity box. Evil! The daughter who can see the ghost of her mother. Wow, that one was so original. The annoying brother and sister. The evil guy, with a horrible name. Declan. Really? And the priest who questions his beliefs. What?

Apart from that, it was okay. Since I really l
Ben Thurley
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
A Swift Pure Cry is built on a few clichés of Irish literature that could easily sink it: the poor family, the drunken father, falls from innocence and a trusting faith, an unwanted pregnancy and the bleak moral landscape of strictly religious communities. But for all that, Dowd has written a moving piece of young adult fiction.

Michele Talent (Shell), the narrator, who struggles both for and against her family and battles the stigma of poverty in her school and community, is forced too quickly
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fabulous read! I raced through it in a day and just couldnt put it down.

I thought this was one of the most compelling and beautifully written books that I have read in months, and although aimed at older teenagers, it wasnt in the least patronising or simplified.

The heroine of the story - Shell, is at times heartbreakingly sad yet such a strong and loyal character too.

This is a very tragic story and inspired by true events, yet despite the tragic circumstances the story ends full of hope.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this in one emotionally exhausting evening.
After the renewed media interest in the Kerry Babies case I decided to pick this up. Shel's story throws a light on Ireland's incredibly shady history of how it has treated women.

Please read this book and the above links and remember that these events happened in the distant, dark ages of the 1980s.
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it
I could tell this was a good book, but for some reason I couldn't understand it. I could see the big picture and some of the smaller details, but it seemed like some other things were missing. Shell was pregnant, yet she never went to a doctor. People saw that she was pregnant, but never helped her. Two young children delivered her baby? She didn't know her baby was dead when Rose was born. Why was her father brought in originally as a suspect, not a guardian?
If anyone has these answers please t
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just from the title, I knew that this was going to be a delicately written book, with a well-crafted storyline and full of beautiful imagery, and the novel definitely met my expectations. The story follows a teenager, struggling to support her unstable father and two young siblings after her mother's death, set against the backdrop of a small Irish community. It is also about the fine lines between anger and love, sorrow and joy.
Sep 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
This started off beautifully descriptive, but the subject matter of the poor, ignorant "Shell" Talent subject to her neglectful drunk of a father after losing her mother quickly became tiresome. Throw in a sacrilegious altar boy getting her pregnant and the subsequent birth of a stillborn baby and the discovery of a second, dead baby throwing the town into a frenzy of gossip and hate-mongering - this was neither a feel-good nor particularly engaging read.
Oct 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful book - I'm saddened every time I finish a Siobhan Dowd book though, because I know there aren't going to be any more... Shell is a wonderful character, naive and innocent but wonderfully savvy and resourceful, and the story as it pans out is really tragic, but with hope for the future. Absolutely loved it...
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
Siobhan Dowd's superb, melancholy first novel about 15YO Shell (Michelle) who tenderly mothers her younger brother and sister after her dear Mam dies and her father's alcoholism worsens. Shell comes of age, becomes pregnant and delivers her baby the hard way, nearly all by herself, with complex, dramatic and transforming results. I miss you, Siobhan.
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The Ultimate Teen...: A Swift Pure Cry - Siobhan Dowd 3 13 May 11, 2013 11:01PM  
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Siobhan Dowd was born to Irish parents and brought up in London. She spent much of her youth visiting the family cottage in Aglish, County Waterford and later the family home in Wicklow Town.
She attended a Catholic grammar school in south London and then gained a degree in Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. After a short stint in publishing, she joined the writer's organization PEN