Push, by Sapphire, or How to Fit Every Awful Social Problem Into One Book

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I should start by saying that I gave Push, by Sapphire, five stars on GoodReads.  That said, I'm not sure I can say that I "liked" this book.  It was horrific, wonderful, tragic, redemptive, heinous, empowering, painful and joyous all wrapped up into one.

Push is the story of Precious, a 16 year old girl living in Harlem with her sexually and physically abusive mother.  She is also visited, and raped, regularly by her father.  As the story opens she is on the verge of having the second of two babies she will have by her father, Carl.  Through her stream-of-consciousness  writings in what we discover is her school journal, we find out about the things that have happened to her to make her life the miserable existence it is.  We also get a window into her dreams and hopes for the future, and the redemptive power of love that comes from her teacher, Ms. Blue Rain.

This novel was made into a major motion picture, which anyone not living under a rock for the last year is sure to know already.  I haven't seen the movie, and frankly after reading the book I'm not sure I will.  Again, I gave this book five stars, but I'm not sure that I want to see the events of Precious' life played out in technicolor.  It was enough to read about them.  As I was reading I kept trying to imagine how they would put the horrific abuse that was visited upon Precious into an even remotely acceptable form for public viewing.  But without the graphic nature of Precious' descriptions the story would not have been nearly as compelling or engrossing.

Precious is the most innocent, naive, streetwise character I have ever read.  As a white, middle-class person, I cannot begin to know how much I take for granted that Precious had never even heard of, much less experienced for herself.  She lives in Harlem, but she has never been to the rest of Manhattan.  She never read a sentence, much less a book.  She has never had a friend, never had a teacher who cared about her, never had a parent who cared about her.  How the system didn't take her away from her mother when the first baby was born is astonishing...she readily admitted that her own father was the father of her baby.

Frankly, the sheer number of things that happened to Precious in her short life is the one problem I have with the plot of the book.  I know that there are terrible things that happen to people all the time, unimaginable things, but all of them to one person?  The book tackles incest, physical abuse, educational neglect, poverty, sexual assault, gay issues, HIV, homelessness...considering it is only a couple hundred pages long that it a lot to fit in, and after all while I did start to feel fatigued.  But I suppose that was the point-how much more meaningful it is when Precious begins to overcome her obstacles knowing how many there are.


  1. Precious. Saw the movie, but did not read the novel. The movie was very bleak. And, in my opinion, and perhaps the novel will be different, the protagonist Precious really didn't change that much by the end of the tale. She had some redemption with her mother, but still no home, job, nothing. I snuck into The Blind Side right after Precious, just to wash that ugly taste out of my mouth, and Blind Side, for all its Hallmark channel faux glibness, at least left me with warm fuzzies by the time I left the Warrenville, IL theater.

    If you've not read it, and I know you're a voracious reader, but Tinkers by Paul Harding is fantastic so far. I am reading it simply because (a) I'm a native of New England, where it's set, and (b) it won the Pulitzer Prize 2010. I heard about it on NPR or something. I'm 50% through it, and it's superb! The quality of the writing is out of this world, and although the imagery is sometimes hard to follow, like any good song, or movie, or especially a good book it has to take a winding path to really have lasting value and re-readability. Like Night, by Weisel, it's a short book, too; under 200 pages (I read on iPod Touch, so I have funny numbers rather than pages). Anyhow, at least put it on your "to sample" list and check it out at your bookseller. Tinkers, by Paul Harding.

    Thanks for a neat blog. I too, by the way, was completely riveted by the terse, tight writing style of Night. The subject matter was all the more stark given Weisel's writing style. Less is, indeed, more. Bye bye for now.

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  3. I tend to aviod these kinds of books because there are alot of them around, certainly a film I'll be avoiding I think.

  4. I had read the book before I watched the movie. Even knowing what was going to happen, it was still a tough movie to watch. It was hard enough reading it, but watching it played out? Tough. But at the same time, it's real for many people. It's hard for us to watch, harder for people to go through it.

  5. Great review. I need to read this book.

  6. Good review! I have wondered occasionally why so many harsh things happen to one person, but i didn't worry much about it.


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