A Swift Pure Cry

A Swift Pure Cry

by Siobhan Dowd


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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, who is charming, eloquent, and persuasive. But when Declan suddenly leaves Ireland to seek his fortune in America, Shell finds herself pregnant and the center of a scandal that rocks the small community in which she lives, with repercussions across the whole country. The lives of those immediately around her will never be the same again.This is a story of love and loss, religious belief and spirituality—it will move the hearts of any who read it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385751087
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 04/10/2007
Pages: 310
Product dimensions: 5.68(w) x 8.49(h) x 1.09(d)
Lexile: 560L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Siobhan Dowd’s novels include A Swift Pure Cry, for which she was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start author, The London Eye Mystery, and Bog Child. She passed away in August of 2007 from breast cancer.

Read an Excerpt


The place brought to mind a sinking ship. Wood creaked on the floor, across the pews, up in the gallery. Around the walls, a fierce March wind chased itself.

The congregation launched into the Our Father as if every last soul was going down. Heaven. Bread. Trespass. Temptation. The words whisked passed Shell’s ears like rabbits vanishing into their holes. She tried wriggling her nose to make it slimmer. Evil. Mrs McGrath’s hat lurched in front of her, its feather looking drunk: three-to-one odds it would fall off. Declan Ronan, today’s altar boy, was examining the tabernacle, licking his lips with half-shut eyes. Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t holy.

Trix and Jimmy sat on either side of her, swinging their legs in their falling-down socks. They were in a competition to see who could go higher and faster.

‘Whisht,’ Shell hissed, poking Jimmy in the ribs.

‘Whisht yourself,’ said Jimmy aloud.

Thankfully, Dad didn’t hear. By now he was up at the microphone, reading the lesson like a demented prophet. His sideburns gleamed grey. The lines on his massive forehead rose and fell. This past year, he’d gone religion-mad. He’d become worshipper extraordinaire, handing out the hymn books, going round with the collection boxes every offertory. Most days he went into nearby Castlerock and walked the streets, collecting for the Church’s causes. On Sunday mornings, she’d often glimpse him practising the reading in his bedroom. He’d sit upright in front of the three panelled mirrors of Mam’s old dressing table, spitting out the words like bad grapes.

Shell, on the other hand, had no time for church: not since Mam’s death, over a year back. She remembered how, when she was small, Mam had made her, Jimmy and Trix dress up clean and bright and coaxed them through Mass with colouring pencils and paper. ‘Draw me an angel, Shell, playing hurling in the rain’; ‘Do me a cat, Jimmy, parachuting off a plane.’ Mam had liked the priests, the candles and the rosaries. Most of all, she’d loved the Virgin Mary. She’d said ‘Sweet Mary this and that’ all day long. Sweet Mary if the potatoes boiled over, if the dog caught a crow. Sweet Mary if the scones came out good and soft.

Then she died.

Shell remembered standing by Mam’s bed as she floated off. Dr Fallon, Mrs Duggan and Mrs McGrath had been there, with Father Carroll leading a round of the rosary. Her dad had stood off to the side, like a minor character in a film, mouthing the words rather than saying them. Now and at the hour of our . . . On the word ‘death’ Shell had frozen. Death. The word was a bad breath. The closer you got the more you wanted it to go away. She’d realized then she didn’t believe in heaven any more. Mam wasn’t going anywhere. She was going to nowhere, to nothing. Her face had fallen in, puckered and ash-white. Her thin fingers kneaded the sheets, working over them methodically. In Shell’s mind, Jesus got off the cross and walked off to the nearest bar. Mam’s face scrunched up, like a baby’s that’s about to cry. Then she died. Jesus drained off his glass of beer and went clean out of Shell’s life. Mrs McGrath put the mirror Mam had used for plucking her eyebrows up to her mouth and said, ‘She’s gone.’ It was quiet. Dad didn’t move. He just kept on mouthing the prayers, a fish out of water.

They’d waked her in the house over three days. Mam’s face turned waxen. Her fingers went blue and stiff, then yellow and loose again. They threaded them with her milk-white rosary beads. Then they buried her. It was a drama, the whole village bowing, the men doffing their hats. There were processions and candles, solemn stares, prayers, and callers night and day. I’m sorry for your trouble, they’d say. A feed of drink was drunk. Shell didn’t cry. Not at first. Not until a whole year passed. Then she’d cried long and hard as she planted the grave up with daffodils on a November day, the first anniversary.

The less religious Shell got, the more Dad became. Before Mam died, he’d only ever gone through the motions, standing in the church’s back porch, muttering with the other men about the latest cattlemart or hurling match. Mam hadn’t minded. She’d joked that men fell into two categories: they were either ardent about God and indifferent to women, or ardent about women and indifferent to God. If she’d been alive now, she wouldn’t have known him. He was piety personified. He’d sold the television, saying it was a vehicle of the devil. He’d taken over Mam’s old role and led Shell, Jimmy and Trix in a decade of the rosary every night, except Wednesdays and Saturdays, when he went straight down to Stack’s pub after his day of collecting. He’d given up his job on Duggans’ farm. He said he was devoting his life to the Lord.

Today, he was almost yelling. Avenging angels, crashing temples and false gods resounded in the small church, hurting the ear. Mrs McGrath’s hat slid off when the shock of the word thunder set the microphone off in a high-pitched whine. Dad’s eyes flickered. He was momentarily distracted. He looked up at the congregation, staring into the middle distance, seeing nobody. He clenched the lectern’s sides. Shell held her breath. Had he lost his place? No. He continued, but the steam had gone out of it. Jimmy punched the bench, making it boom, just as Dad faltered to the end.

‘This – is – the – word – of – the – Lord,’ he trailed.

‘Thanks be to God,’ the congregation chorused. Shell for one meant it. He’d done. Jimmy smirked. He made the hymn sheet into a spyglass and twisted to inspect the people in the gallery. Trix curled up on the floor, with her head on the kneeler. Dad came down from the altar. Everybody stood up. Shell averted her eyes from Dad as he shuffled up beside her. Bridie Quinn, her friend from school, caught her eye. She had two fingers up to her temple and was twizzling them round as if to say, Your dad is mad. Shell shrugged as if to reply, It’s nothing to do with me. Everybody was waiting for Father Carroll to do the Gospel. He was stooped and old, with a soft, sing-song voice. You could go off into a sweet, peaceful dream as he pattered out the words.

There was a long pause.

The wind outside died down. Crows cawed.

It wasn’t Father Carroll who approached the microphone but the new curate, Father Rose. He was fresh from the seminary, people said, up in the Midlands. He’d never spoken in public before. Shell had only seen him perform the rites in silence, at Father Carroll’s side. There was a quickening interest all around.

He stood at the lectern, eyes down, and turned the pages of the book with a slight frown of concentration. He was young, with a full head of hair that sprang upwards like bracken. He held his head to one side, as if considering a finer point of theology. When he found the place, he straightened up and smiled. It was the kind of smile that radiated out to everyone, everywhere at once. Shell felt he’d smiled at her alone. She heard him draw his breath.

‘“The next day, as they were leaving Bethany . . .”’ he began.

His voice was even, expressive. The words had a new tune in them, an accent from another place, a richer county. He read the words as if he’d written them himself, telling the story about Jesus throwing over the tables of the moneylenders outside the temple. Jesus raged with righteous anger and Father Rose’s mouth moved in solemn tandem. The air around him vibrated with shining picture bubbles. Shell could hear the caged birds under the arches, the clink of Roman coins. She could see the gorgeous colours of the Israelites’ robes, the light shafting through the temple columns. The images and sounds cascaded out from the pulpit, hanging in the air, turning over like angels in the spring light.

‘Please be seated,’ Father Rose said at the end of the reading. The congregation sat. Only Shell remained standing, her mouth open. The tables of the moneymen turned into hissing snakes. The multitudes fell silent. Jesus became a man, sad and real, smiling upon Shell as she stood in a daze.

‘Be seated,’ Father Rose repeated gently.

There was a rustle around her and Shell remembered where she was. God. Everyone’s staring. She plumped down. Trix tittered. Jimmy dug his spyglass in her side.

Father Rose came down the altar steps and stood before the congregation, arms folded, grinning, as if welcoming guests over for dinner. There was a mutter at this departure from practice. Father Carroll always went to the pulpit for his sermon. Father Rose began to speak.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“IT IS NO small feat to write a story so heavy with foreboding and both deliver on the palpable sense of dread and concoct a hopeful yet realistic ending. Dowd achieves this in her beautifully realized account of one girl’s loss of innocence, and her resilient recovery.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Dowd’s elegant, unsentimental prose and her instinctive grasp of the struggles of the human heart [lead] toward a hopeful ending. Don’t let your kids keep this book to themselves.”—People Magazine

“Told through flowing eloquent prose, with strong Joycean influences, this engrossing and haunting tale will not let the reader go.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Swift Pure Cry 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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 turning in the remains.

Life is difficult. Shell is teased at school and skips out as much as possible. She attempts to look to the church for support, and a new young priest seems to offer a shoulder to lean on. Eventually, Shell seeks emotional release in a relationship with an older boy. They begin a secret relationship spent mostly hidden in the barley field where Declan takes advantage of Shell's need for tenderness. The inevitable happens - Shell becomes pregnant. Without her mother to confide in, Shell hides her condition, using a stolen library book to help her understand what is about to happen.

Shell is an amazing young girl. She struggles to hold the family together and deal with her circumstances as best she can. As the story unfolds, readers will be surprised at the unpredictable turn of events for Shell, her father, the young priest, and all involved in the unfortunate tragedy.

A SWIFT PURE CRY uses Irish dialect and lyrical prose to draw the reader into Shell's world. Her courage and faith shine clearly through this heartbreaking tale.
julie10reads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another YA read that will draw adults as well, this novel takes place in County Cork during the 1980s. For North American readers, the Talent family home¿s lack of amenities will seem more typical of the 1950s. No TV, no malls or movies, the Talent siblings (15, 9 and 6?) play made up games with each other and cut out dolls from old magazines. When their alcoholic father wants to drink and count his stash hidden in the piano, he sends the children out to pick up stones in the field, no matter the weather. This is a wonderfully conveyed visual for their hard, dour life.At 15, Shell, short for Michelle, has lost her mother to cancer and lost her faith. ¿In Shell¿s mind, Jesus got off the cross and walked off to the nearest bar.¿ She starts ¿mitching¿, skipping school, stealing from the local shops and devastatingly, gives in to the local Lothario, Declan Ronan. By the time Shell realizes she¿s pregnant, Declan has run away from home to America. She hides her pregnancy under her father¿s coat and in a believable, one-of-a-kind scene, gives birth at home with the help of her younger siblings. No melodrama, no Hallmark moments: just 3 traumatized children. The plot takes a sharp turn here involving spoilers; let¿s just say Shell¿s trauma is just beginning¿.There`s a delicate subplot involving a new parish assistant, Father Rose. The antithesis of the pedophile priest, Father Rose befriends Shell as much as he can within the restraints of 1980s Irish Catholicism. This novel came recommended by Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Neve Letting Go, who places it in a category with To Kill a Mockingbird; both are coming-of-age stories deeply true to their culture and time and at the same time, universal.Something for teens and adults. Highly recommended 8 out of 10.
ChristianR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shell, an Irish teen whose mother has died and whose father is an alcoholic, is struggling to take care of her two younger siblings. She becomes involved with a boy and gets pregnant but conceals it. Her father and the other adults either don't see her condition or ignore it. This book does a good job of projecting the helplessness that young people can feel when they are in an overwhelming situation without any adults in charge. A very moving book.
FionaCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shell Talent lives with her dad and younger brother and sister in the Irish village of Coolbar near the sea. Her mam has been dead for a year or more and the family still misses her greatly.Shell's only tangible tie to her mam is a pink dress hanging in the back of her dad's closet. One night she tries it on and starts a chain of events that leads to a scandal the likes of which Coolbar has never known. Misunderstandings and secrets abound as Shell tries to make sense of what has happened.This is a haunting story of a young girl still grieving for her dead mother and caught up in events that quickly spiral out of her control. Through it all, though, Shell looks after her younger siblings and never loses her bond with her mam.
HHS-Students on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Kimmy (Class of 2012)Who is the father of Shell¿s baby? In A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd, fifteen year old Michelle ¿Shell¿ Talent lives in County Cork, Ireland with her father and her two younger siblings. Shell¿s mother has died and it¿s her responsibility to take care of her family. Siobhan Dowd had won many awards for her writing, including the 2007 Branford Boase Award for outstanding novel for younger teens. In this story, Shell becomes pregnant by somebody she knew and who leaves her alone and pregnant. The mystery in the book is who is the father of her unborn baby. The thing I didn¿t like about this book is that I didn¿t understand the part who was the father of the baby, and there were so many people involved in this part. My favorite part was that her younger siblings were learning something new every each day during the pregnancy they were becoming more talkative. This book has a lot of drama going on and if you like that type of book, you would love reading A Swift Pure Cry.
jsjohnso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Coolbar, Ireland is where Shell lives with her father, younger sister and brother (Trix and Jimmy.) Their mother has died and Shell takes care of the family. Since Mam died, thier father, Joe became more religious, drinks a lot, and no longer works. He collect money for the poor. When the story begins it is Spring and almost Easter. Shell is friends with Father Rose but he is told by the head priest, Father Carrol not to be seen hanging around with a single girla (Shell.) Shell becomes involved with Declan and gets pregnant. She does not tell her father and before Christmas she has the baby at home with the help of her two siblings.( p 174-180) Shell thinks the baby is alive but the baby girl was born dead. The cord was around the baby's neck. Shell, calls the baby Rose. Trix, Jimmy and Shell put the baby in a box and take it out to the hillside and bury it. When her father come home for Christmas, Shell is eating dinner with him and the police come to arrest Shell and her father because a dead baby was found on Shell Island. Joe tells Shell not to say a word as they leave the house. Sargent Mollow thinks Shell and her father killed the baby. Shell father confesses to leaving the baby on the shlef in a cave to die--to ease his own guilt and protect Shell. Shell does not talk to anyone but finds out that the baby in question is a boy and it was left on the shelf. She talks with Father Rose and tells him where her baby is buried and that is was a girl. Shell is released from jail and they go to where the baby is buried and dig it up.During this time Shell's father thinks he is the father because he came home drunk one night and Shell had on her mother's pink dress--Joe thinks he raped Shell. But, she got away from him before he passed out. Shell refuses to tell anyone who is the father of the baby. So the police think Joe is the father. However, since there are two babies Shell begins to piece together the facts about her fiend Birdie Quinn and realizes that Birdie had a baby and the father was also Declan Ronan. Birdie's mother told Shell that Birdie was living with an aunt of her in another area but Shell calls the Aunt and she is not there. The baby left on the shelf was Birdie's baby. The police sent the two baby's bodies to pathologist to determine whether they were twins and when the results come back, it is clear that the two babies do not have the same blood type. Joe is released from jail.This is a beautilul story about compassion. All of the people in Coolbar were making judgements about Shell and her father. Their neighbor, Mrs. Dugan looked after the family and protects Shell form the harsh things people in Coolbar are saying. After Father Rose knows the truth and visits Shell, he says ..."My God, we let you down. Every last one of us in Coolbar. We let you down." (p. 218) At the end of the story the people of Coolbar have a funeral Mass for the babies and then bury them. Shell's father stops dirnking and starts farming again; Decaln writes Shell a letter from America and tells her how much he cares for her; and Fahter Rose goes to Offlay --he has become a doubting priest and will try to find a clear way. Mam's spirit stayed with Shell and helped her get through all of the terrible things and gave her a peace that life would be good and continue on.
CaroTheLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shell lives in rural Ireland, and since her mother's death is responisble for her two younger siblings and her heavy-drinking father. This is a beautfully written novel, with a real sense of time and place. The language can be quiet complex, and assumes a certain understanding of Catholic belief and practice. Heart-rending in places I would highly recommended this book for older teens and adults.
LibraryLou on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A moving story about a young girl who quickly goes from being an innocent child to living in a world of adult possibilities after her mother dies.Definitely should win this year's Carnegie medal. I couldn't put it down at all once I started it. Very well written with fantastically drawn characters.
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What y?
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I... i dont know. " he gets up and goes to the 18th result.
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Im leaving