Picks and Pans Review: A Swift Pure Cry

UPDATED 04/23/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/23/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Siobhan Dowd

Set in small-town Ireland in 1984, Siobhan Dowd's debut novel helps explain why so many adults read books ostensibly written for teenagers. Dowd's heroine is Shell Talent, who at the age of 15 has already experienced the death of her mother and suffered through her father's alcoholism and religious fanaticism. With two younger siblings to raise and no money, Shell deals with betrayal and pregnancy, followed by accusations of murder and incest in a vicious local witch hunt. And yet Dowd's elegant, unsentimental prose and her instinctive grasp of the struggles of the human heart guide Shell toward a hopeful ending. Don't let your kids keep this book to themselves.

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