A Swift Pure Cry

A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd.

Nominated for the Carnegie Medal, this book is my favorite YA novel of the year.  It is a powerful look at abandonment, distrust, family, responsibility, love and forgiveness.  Shell is a 15 year old who lives in modern-day rural Ireland.  With her mother dead, her father has never recovered and no longer takes care of Shell or her two younger siblings.  All responsibility falls to Shell to raise her brother and sister.  While she struggles to form a home for them, schooling often falls to the side until Shell is forced once again to attend.  When a new young priest comes to Shell’s church, the words of the Bible once again come alive for her.  Shell struggles with her Catholic religion, sometimes seeing her mother before her and other times unable to make a connection to any type of divinity.  As her life continues to become even more complicated, Shell must decide what she loves and who she really is.

There are three aspects to this novel that make it so deeply moving.  First is the poverty that Shell and her family live in.  Dowd manages to make it very real but not melodramatic.  It is handled matter-of-factly as another aspect to Shell’s situation in life.  Second is religion.  Shell’s struggle with faith, spirituality, and forming her own beliefs is almost physically tangible.  I see religion as another fully developed character in the novel.  Beautifully and honestly rendered.

The final aspect that makes this novel spectacular is the writing.  It fairly sings on the page.  One passage that made my breath catch was when Shell sees her dead mother walking on the beach. 

“Shell blinked.  The figure vanished.
Shell’s heart had a purple cover over it.
When Jesus dies, she thought, you die a little too.”

I’m not sure I can say anything more to tell you how marvelous this novel is.  Poetry in prose with a dark depth to it that will leave you aching when you finish it.  Recommended to teens and adults who enjoy a novel to sink into and truly experience. 

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