17 August 2009

BOOK CLUB - AUG - A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd

From Random House publishers:

Setting: Ireland,1984. After Shell’s mother dies, her father gives up on work and his children and escapes reality by drinking. The unexpected challenge of caring for a home and her two siblings leaves Shell little opportunity to enjoy her youth. She frequently skips school just to spend time with her only friends, Birdie and Declan. But when Birdie leaves town to live with her aunt, Declan and Shell’s friendship evolves into intimacy until he flees to America, leaving Shell pregnant. Months later, scandal erupts in the community; a baby boy is found dead in a cave, and Shell admits to giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Two babies dead, and no one knows the father of both is Declan, and no one knows the baby boy’s mother is Birdie—no one, that is, except Shell.
  • When Birdie sees Shell and Declan kissing, why does she only blame Shell? What role does Shell play in Declan’s betrayal of Birdie? Why does Birdie refuse to speak to Shell? How does Birdie’s betrayal of Shell affect each of them?
  • As Shell’s father grows more distant and turns increasingly to alcohol, Shell begins to assume more responsibility for Trix and Jimmy. From what is her father trying to escape?
  • Young Shell must cope with a secret pregnancy, the care of her two siblings, her father’s neglect, and her mother’s death. What character traits does Shell possess that enable her to handle all that life has thrown at her?
  • Shell does not think she has anyone to support her when she discovers she is pregnant. Why is she so fearful of asking anyone for help? Who could have helped her?
  • When Rose is born, Shell either does not realize or is unwilling to accept the fact that Rose is dead. How does Jimmy help Shell understand that Rose is dead? Why does Shell assume the responsibility for Rose’s death? Could Rose have been saved?
  • Why does Shell’s father confess to a crime he did not commit? Why does he think he is guilty? How does his admission of a crime he didn’t commit help Shell communicate with him? How does it alter their relationship?
  • What impact does Father Rose have on Shell? How does he help her through a difficult time? How does he fail her? What factors influence Father Rose to leave the priesthood?
  • The people in the community are devastated to learn that two babies in their community have been found dead. How could the police have better handled the cases? What role do the gossips play in Shell’s arrest? Besides Shell, who knew the identity of the parents of the baby boy? Was his death intentional?
  • Shell receives a letter from Declan telling of his adventures and life in America, but Shell burns the letter and does not respond to it. Why?
  • Do you think this is an apt title for the story told? Why or why not?


  1. Something about this story and the way it's told makes me want to pair it with Christina Meldrum's Madapple, a disturbiling beautiful tale of a girl who has to survive a life that her mother never prepared her for.

  2. (a disturbingly beautiful tale, too.)


What do you think?