A Swift Pure Cry

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
A Swift Pure Cry Book Poster Image
Irish teen gets accused of killing her baby.

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Main characters shoplift with no consequences.


A boy is beaten up by a schoolmate. A baby is stillborn, another is left to die of exposure in a cave.


Young teens repeatedly have sex, not described, which results in pregnancy; kissing with tongue; a girl sees her father naked and aroused; references to periods, prostitutes, and abortion; a graphic depiction of childbirth.


British slang: "fags" (for cigarettes), "shite," "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Everyone, including young teens, smokes constantly. Teens drink, including sneaking the communion wine. A father is a drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book, based on a true story, depicts some horrifying events, including a graphic description of a young teen giving birth on the kitchen floor, assisted only by her much younger siblings, and the murder of a baby by exposure.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bypumpkinsoup311 November 1, 2012

Very Good Book

I thoroughly enjoyed this book although I found it very harrowing and sometimes scary. It raises lots of controversial and socially relevant issues around human... Continue reading

What's the story?

Life is tough for 15-year-old Shell. Since her mom died, her father has quit working and, when he isn't drinking, spends his time collecting for the church and skimming the donations for enough to buy booze. Mostly he isn't home, and Shell is left to take care of her younger brother and sister, Jimmy and Trix, with little money and no help.

She starts a relationship with a local boy, but after he leaves for America, Shell discovers that she's pregnant. Knowing nothing about having a baby, and with no adult to guide her, she is left to do the best she can on her own. But when she finally gives birth (in a harrowing scene, on the kitchen floor and aided only by her young siblings) to a stillborn baby, her problems have only begun.

Is it any good?

This was the late Siobhan Dowd's first novel, and it's a heartbreaking one. Based on a true story and set in Ireland in the '80s, it reveals a life that, one hopefully assumes, is far removed from that of most of its readers. For the first two-thirds of the book, it's a chronicle of a life no one should have to lead. Perhaps the saddest part of it is the way that Shell just keeps going along as if this is just what life is like and there's no reason to even suspect that it could be better.

In the last third of the book, it turns into a mystery. While the reader will have figured it out long before anyone in the book does, it's still a thriller. But throughout the book, there is one small hero who is almost overlooked: Shell's stalwart 9-year-old brother, Jimmy, who's the first to figure out that she's pregnant. His chipper and unobtrusive caring is one of the little touches that elevate what could have been a tale of unrelenting misery into something else, something hopeful ... and pure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Shell's situation while pregnant. Why didn't anyone see what was happening and offer to help? Why didn't she ask for help?

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