Vintage | 1996 | 192 Pages | List Price $13.00 | Get it for less at Amazon
Don’t let the slender size fool you. PUSH is a remarkably complex, disturbing and redemptive tale of strength and perseverance. For many, PUSH will not be a book to consume in one sitting®”the subject matter is just too disconcerting. Yet despite the heartbreakingly difficult content, Sapphire has created a character you can’t help but empathize with and she’s one with whom you become fully invested.
So what is PUSH all about? Let me break it down for you the way I think the novel’s unlikely heroine would:
PUSH is fascinating. It’s the story of Precious Jones, an obese, illiterate16-year-old girl growing up in Harlem with every card stacked against her. Unable to read, she sits in the back of each class staring at pages that run together in a blur. Performance poet and first-time novelist Sapphire combines poetry and prose to create a lead character that is instantly likeable in spite of how very different she may be from most readers.
PUSH is brutal. Precious endures regular physical, sexual and emotional abuse by both of her parents. At 12, Precious gave birth to her first child®”by her father. At 16, where the book begins, she is carrying his second child. Precious battles the anger, self-loathing, hopelessness and swarm of conflicting emotions raised by molestation and an environment pervasive with abuse.
PUSH is challenging. PUSH is told in Precious’ own voice, a language that is at times vulgar, uneven and underdeveloped. This slows down the reading, but is not a detriment. Rather, the perspective forces the reader to identify with Precious, empathize with her and actually see her through all of her circumstances.
PUSH is illuminating. A former reading teacher and social worker, Sapphire brings hands-on knowledge to PUSH, illustrating the clearly broken educational, healthcare and social systems that can allow someone like Precious to fall through the cracks. The number of signs and calls for help that go unanswered are absolutely mind-boggling.
PUSH is inspiring. At a critical point in her life, Precious is referred to an alternative school that can teach her to read and obtain her GED. Her transfer to the Each One/Teach One School marks a new beginning for Precious®”one where she’s valued and recognized. It is here that she tackles her personal history, creates her own safe community and begins to see herself as the precious gift she is.
PUSH is risky. Sapphire tackles treacherous terrain with the subject of incest®”a topic that remains taboo for many even today. On the surface, the characters are castoffs, invisibles; the ones who perform unspeakable acts or are otherwise seen as damaged goods. These factors may limit interest or accessibility and that will be an unfortunate tragedy.
The book also has its flaws. Precious’ development at times seems too rapid in too short a time. In the latter half of the book Precious is delivered another astonishing blow and while her future does seem optimistic, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty.
What I am absolutely certain about is this: PUSH is important.
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