Synopsis from Goodreads.
After Shell’s mother dies, her obsessively religious father descends into alcoholic mourning and Shell is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Her only release from the harshness of everyday life comes from her budding spiritual friendship with a naive young priest, and most importantly, her developing relationship with childhood friend, Declan, charming, eloquent and persuasive. But when Declan suddenly leaves Ireland to seek his fortune in America, Shell finds herself pregnant and the centre of a scandal that rocks the small community in which she lives, with repercussions across the whole country. The lives of those immediately around her will never be the same again.
There are slight spoilers hovering around in this review… I’m going to try and not spoil it outright but if you don’t want to know anything about it… here’s the short version: read it read it read it.
“Together always. Free… And their lives ahead of them, around them, spilling from them as they screamed Whoooooooooo like three demented owls. What joy it was to be, what joy.”
Initial Final Page Thoughts.
Breath taken and hairs on the back of my neck standing up… wowowow. This book was spectacular.
Shell. Father Rose. Trix. Jimmy. Caves. Rhymes. Altar boys who think unholy thoughts. Buckets and spades. Doing a Mary Magdalene. Ireland. Jezebel. See Shells. Piers. Mirrors. Faith. Spirituality. Bras. Hope. Ferris Wheels. “The dreams and laughs and tears. The here-and-nows and the here-afters.”
I honestly can’t think of one that won’t sound lame like “It wasn’t long enough”.
So… I’m passing on this one.
But it wasn’t long enough. I wanted to know what happened after… what happened to Shell, what happened to Father Rose, what happened to Trix and what happened to Jimmy….
Oh Shell, my heart is bleeding for you. But you’re the kind of heroine who wouldn’t want my sympathy… so I’m sorry, but I can’t help it.
I was emotionally invested in your story, your narration, your circumstances.
And I still am.
If it helps you also have my utmost respect because you are one of the strongest heroines I’ve ever read.
Shell’s narration often had me stopping and reading over the paragraphs again because they were so beautiful.
“In the triptych of mirrors was the image of him standing there, again and again, into infinity, reaching out forlornly into another world, a world in which Mam had gone and the living could not follow.”
Shell’s narration is so breathless and passionate and so full of feeling, it was impossible to look away. There was one scene… in a cave… with the boy… that was possibly the most compelling sex scenes I’ve read in YA fiction.
Not a “deflowering” in sight either…
Ms Dowd’s portrayal of Shell’s battle with her faith, after everything she’s been through, was so compelling. But what I loved most about this book was after I finished it, I still had no idea where Ms Dowd stood on religion. I think with books with ‘controversial’ subjects, it is so easy for authors to inject their own beliefs and write a story that is basically a vehicle to bully them on to their readers. But this never happened.
Shell was so resilient and even though she would have had my full support if she wanted to crawl under the duvet and weep into her pillow, she never did.
She stands alone throughout most of this book but, even when everyone turns their back on her, she remains true to herself. And, throughout it all, she still has time to raise her brother and her sister without a second thought.
I think Shell and I are going to be friends for a while.
“Coolbar isn’t ready for a gum-chewing priest.”
Maybe not, but I definitely was.
Lovedlovedloved this man.
And his car, Jezebel.
And I loved his ending.
“Isn’t the world a mad fandango?”
Here be minor spoilers.
Love Interest The Boy.
OK, I know, I knowww.
I’m not supposed to like Declan after everything he did and after everything he didn’t.
But I so so so did.
Yes, he’s a bad boy but not a cliché bad boy who dwell in dark classrooms of YA books that stare and leer and brood from the side lines.
He’s actually a boy. A realistic boy that you can imagine sitting at the back of the bus, scrawling crude graffiti on the back of the seat, grabbing at you, making suggestive comments to you when you walk by, who wonders what kind of bra the Virgin Mary would wear and calls going to have a quick shufty in a field “Doing a Mary Magdalene”.
I think Shell understood this too.
“He wasn’t like the blacksmith in Mam’s old song. Unlike him, he’d never made any promises. He’d never written a letter. He was maybe a heart-breaking smooth operator… but he’d never pretended anything else.”
See? If Shell still likes him… how can I hate him? I don’t think Ms Dowd would have wanted me to, anyway. I bet she had a lot of fun with Declan.
I know I know. He made some bad decisions. But they were realistic decisions and he wasn’t to know and I like to think that if he had known, he would have made different ones.
I think he really did care for Shell… and, not because he had to like Trix and Jimmy did.
But because of her.
“They made me dizzy. But not as dizzy as you made me, Shell. I still remember.”
And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
I don’t know what it is about Mumford and Sons but they always seem to find the words to emotions when I can’t. The more I listen to this song, the more I realise how perfect it is for this book and mirrors the journey that Shell goes on and how she comes out of it all stronger and braver.
10/10. I don’t usually cry at books and this one was no exception… probably because my body felt so numb and my mind was so fixated on Shell’s story that I forgot how to cry.
When you find out what this book is about, whether it’s from reading the book or reading a review or whatever, you will no doubt roll your eyes and think “Oh god, not one of those stories”.
Believe me, I did it too.
Ms Dowd created a novel that is equal parts harrowing and beautiful. It’s a story that is told without judgement or an agenda or melodrama.
Even though this book is awfully sad and one that will stick with me for a long time, what I loved most about it was the hopefulness at the end. No, it wasn’t a happy ending as such. The characters are still shrouded in uncertainty and there are still problems and Ms Dowd doesn’t insult the intelligence of her readers by suggesting everything is going to be fine.
But she leaves us with such hope and positivity and joy that there is a chance, even if it is small, that they will all make it through.
And I think they will.
Everyone. People who want a realistic novel that focuses on the heroine and her strengths rather than how she acts around a boy. People who wonder if the altar boys are always thinking holy thoughts. People who like to pick up stones for no reason. People who like make up rhymes. People who think a smooth stretch of sand on the beach is for jumping on and messing up. People who aren’t top of their class but who are in a class of their own.