Siobhan Dowd's A Swift Pure Cry is a coming-of-age story featuring 15-year-old Irish Shell Talent soon after her mother's death. Since her depressed father has turned to alcoholism, Shell is left to take care of her younger brother and sister.
Due to their father's alcoholism, the family is impoverished. Plus, Shell, living in a devoutly Catholic town, must learn to deal with the fact that she blames and hates God for her mother's death. To cope with her hatred, she makes friends with two other impoverished kids in her town, named Declan Ronin and Bridie Quinn, who also share the same sentiments about God. However, Shell loses Bridie's friendship when Shell begins a physical relationship with Declan, and Declan soon leaves for America.
In her desolate state of mind, she turns to Father Rose for comfort. However, one night after dinner, feeling all alone in the world, Shell tries on one of her mother's old dresses at home. When her drunk father comes home, he confuses Shell with his deceased wife and nearly accosts her physically.
Soon, Shell realizes she has become impregnated by Declan but is too afraid to tell anyone. She leaves school to hide her pregnancy but can't hide it from her brother and sister. The baby is sadly born dead, and the three bury the baby. At the same time, police find a second baby dead and abandoned in a cave and arrest Shell. Shell's father falsely confesses to the crime because he wrongly thinks it's Shell's and his baby, but Shell names Declan as the father. Shell is released and soon learns the baby is Bridie's, and Declan was also the father.
However, the novel ends on a happy note when, feeling ashamed of his actions, Shell's father decides to become sober. While Shell still must play mother to her siblings at too young an age, she is able to let go of her grief over her mother, feel secure in having Father Rose as a mentor, and feel happy about her future.