Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Swift Pure Cry

While the reviews of Siobhan Dowd’s novel A Swift Pure Cry intrigued me enough to read it, if I had seen the cover without knowing what the book was about, I probably would have put it back on the shelf. The original cover is a photograph which wraps from the back to the front. The majority of the cover shows tall waving grass with the sea, mountains, and gray sky visible in the distance. A girl in a heavy black jacket and pants sits in the grass, turned so not even her full profile is visible. Her hands are wrapped around her knees and she seems to be looking out at the water. She has medium length red hair pulled back into a ponytail and held in place with a pink scrunchie. The title of the book is printed in all capital letters in a black, serif font about one third of the way down from the top. Below and to the right of the title is the author’s name printed in white in a thin script font which is a bit difficult to read.

There is not much happening on the cover. The scene seems rather peaceful. The only thing that could indicate trouble is the gray sky but it doesn’t look too ominous. Interestingly, Shell, the fifteen-year-old protagonist, has incredibly few moments of peace in her life. Just prior to the time the novel begins, Shell’s mother dies and she is left with her father, who has taken comfort in alcohol and a fanatic obsession with Catholicism, and her younger brother and sister. During the course of the novel, Shell loses her best friend over a boy and then loses her virginity to that boy. Her father mistakes Shell for her mother and tries to sleep with her. But most devastatingly, Shell becomes pregnant and delivers a stillborn baby girl. The only peace she finds is with Father Rose, a new priest who Shell imagines is actually Jesus returned to earth. None of the turmoil existing in the relationships with the three men in her life, her father, her baby’s father Declan, and Father Rose is portrayed on the cover.

If I designed a new cover, it would be a mixture of photograph and a softer medium like pastels. Shell is such a real person and a sharp photograph of her face could portray that realism. However, her relationships seem almost surreal. Her father, in his drunken state, believes Shell is his wife. Her encounters with Declan included dream-like elements. Shell pictures Father Rose as Jesus. The cover I envision would be a full-face photograph of Shell with her eyes about halfway down the page and her chin at the very bottom. Her eyes would be open but unfocused, not really looking at anything. The top of the cover would be a sort of fog with images of Shell with her father, Declan, and Father Rose swirling like thoughts in her mind. These images would be done in pastels or another soft medium. The title and author’s name would be in the bottom right corner in a white script, one more legible than the original.

This new cover would indicate the chaos in Shell’s life and lend the book more of an edge. The topics in this novel are difficult – teen pregnancy, religion, alcoholism, and death to name a few. But even more than to put what I think would be a truer face on the cover of this novel, I think there is very little in the original cover to draw teenagers in. To be honest, the fact that this girl is wearing a pink scrunchie in her hair completely threw me. Additionally, the peaceful scenic landscape make the book feel soft and quiet which it most certainly is not. A Swift Pure Cry was a thought-provoking and occasionally painful book to read and it deserves a cover to match its literary accomplishment. 

Dowd. S. (2006). A swift pure cry. New York: Random House.
Best Books for Young Adults 2008

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