A Swift Pure Cry is Siobhan Dowd's dark and engrossing debut novel. Set in Ireland in 1984, Dowd tells the story of Shell, a 15 year old girl who lives with her younger brother and sister and their alcoholic father. After the death of her mother, two years earlier, Shell has struggled to take care of her family, with little help from the community in which they live.
Her situation becomes even more difficult, however, when she becomes pregnant. She has no one to confide in, and has to attempt to hide her condition from her family and friends. And this is only the beginning of the problems she faces as she becomes embroiled in an even greater scandal.
Dowd has created a very real, very strong heroine in Shell, and her writing brings this small town to life. And while this novel is about teen pregnancy, this is certainly not the only important theme. The themes of family and community, and their abandonment of Shell are as memorable (if not more so), than the theme of pregnancy.
One note about the language though: I do think we could have used a glossary or some sort of explanation of certain words. For example, I'm not sure how many American teens would actually know that "fag" is another word for cigarette. So when the new priest says that he has recently given up fags, this would mean something completely different. (I know this was published first in England where this would have been less of an issue, but it would have been a good idea on the part of the publisher to include something of the sort).
And a question for readers: Would you consider this to be historical fiction? I was about to tag this post, and I'm not sure what label to use. Generally, I go by the definition of anything that takes place "outside of living memory," and this novel does take place before I was born, but I want to hear your opinions on the matter.