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Cybils review: A Swift Pure Cry

Here we go: My review of a book nominated in the Young Adult Fiction category for the 2007 Cybil awards. The first of many!


A Swift Pure Cry

by
Siobhan Dowd

Shell Talent is 15 and stuck. Stuck in a backwater Irish village; stuck with caring for her younger siblings and avoiding her drunken father now that her mother has died.

She loves her brother and sister too much to escape for real, so instead Shell manages small escapes. She skips school; she wanders the back fields and the strand of beach nearby; she imagines her mother’s ghost sings to her, and that the attentions of the new young priest might be more than they seem. And just as things get unbearable at home, Shell escapes to the barley fields with Declan, a charming schoolmate who promises to make her forget her troubles.

Set in 1984, A Swift Pure Cry is a heartbreaking story, and author Siobhan Dowd has a rich and lyrical voice. You can hear her gentle brogue if you read a paragraph out loud.

I should confess that I’m not a big fan of heartbreaking stories as a rule. (I blame my parents and my boringly happy childhood.) But I rooted for Shell. She has a rough time of it. She becomes the center of a small-town scandal, and learns the hard way that people aren’t always what they seem, for better and for worse.

And I withheld my judgment through most of the book, because who knows if I could have coped any better than Shell, were I in her position and only 15 years old? “There but for the grace of God,” as a character in the book is fond of saying.

I was a bit confused by Shell's visions of her dead mother. With all the magical realism in books these days, I've become ready to accept that sort of thing at face value.The book could've veered off in several different predictable directions, in fact, but I was pleased when it didn't, but kept to its own rocky path.

Toward the end, though, I had a hard time understanding why Shell would protect Declan, especially when it meant ruining the reputation of an innocent person. She has her reasons, but they weren’t good enough for me. She comes around in the end though, more or less, and the book ends on a hopeful note. Perhaps a bit overly hopeful, given all the preceding events and Shell’s mostly unchanged circumstance.

The flap copy says the book is “inspired by a true story.” Despite my disinclination toward heartbreaking stories, that fact alone is enough to convince me there’s a vital need for them in young adult literature, and A Swift Pure Cry is an evocative, beautifully written example.

Another review of this book is at  Librarianne.

 

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
aprilhenry
Oct. 7th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
Didn't the author die this year?
stacy_dekeyser
Oct. 7th, 2007 02:46 am (UTC)
April,

I hadn't realized this. Yes, her website says she died of breast cancer just this past August. I'm so sad to know this. But thanks for telling us.
aprilhenry
Oct. 7th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
I'm friends with a Siobhan on LJ who is a YA novelist, so when I first saw the news I had a horrible, sick feeling.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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Stacy DeKeyser ~~ Author of books for teens
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