12 Feb 2012
Review: "Push" by Sapphire
Precious Jones is 12 years old when she goes to hospital. Her mother has beaten her up (with an iron skillet), punched and kick her. Because Precious was having contractions. In the hospital, the battered, obese pre-teen girl gives birth to a daughter and when the nurses ask the name of the father, she replies "Carl Kenwood Jones". The nurses flinch. Why? Because that is also the name of Precious' own father. This scene gives you a very good idea about Precious and the trouble she goes through. Growing up in poverty in 1980's Harlem, Precious' life revolves around being verbally abused by her mother and physically abused by her father. When she is 16, she is thrown out of school for being pregnant - again, and again the father is man who also calls himself Precious' father.
Precious is a big girl. Not round or chubby but fat as in critically obese and this is how she hides the second pregnancy, knowing well that her mother will blame her for the circumstances. However, a teacher takes pity on Precious who is actually quite a devoted student and helps her get a place at Each One Teach One, a school for illiterate teens and adults. Because even though Precious loves her classes, she also cannot read to save her life. At Each One Teach One Precious for the first time in her life meets compassion, friendliness and care and she meets girls and women who have suffered through some of the same things as herself. In the classroom she learns not only how to read (Alice Walker's The Colour Purple) but she also learns about independence and ambition and about taking life in her own hands.
"Push" by Sapphire is a different book, a special book. It is written in Precious' own words and dialect making it rather difficult to read if you are not into Harlem street slang but I found it easy enough to get into actually. And it does give Precious her own voice, making the story more authentic than if it was written in perfect New England English.
I found the story very emotional to read because Precious is such a lovely, clever girl with such a low self-esteem. She continually wishes that she has been born as a skinny white girl with not a care in the world. Being a mother-of-two at sixteen as well as an incest and battery survivor with a reading disability and no place to live can't be easy - and it certainly isn't for Precious. And that is actually what makes it difficult to read because it is a lot of trouble to take in. I mean, nothing is really good in Precious' life. It is all very grim and even when it gets better, it is still pretty awful.
However, as much as it was over the top, it was also a good read because it engaged me on a very emotional level. It reminded me of "Lucky" by Alice Sebold because it is written with the same blunt honesty and deals with extremely difficult topics in a very matter-of-fact manner.
Ooh and by the way - it has been made into a movie "Precious" that I am definitely going to have to see! When it came out it got great reviews and I can't wait to see how it treats the story of Precious.
Read it if: You want to face the ugly sides of life. Want to motivate yourself to do more charity work.