Push by Sapphire

January 8, 2010

push Plot summary (with spoilers): Claireece “Precious” Jones is a functionally illiterate 16-year-old girl who is still in junior high school. Though not a good student, Precious finds school to be a refuge of sorts, as whatever she goes through there feels like paradise compared to the physical, verbal, and sexual abuse doled out by mother Mary and father Carl, whenever he even bothers to come around. Precious is pregnant with her second child — both fathered by Carl. The pregnancy leads school principal Mrs. Lichtenstein to suspend her and recommend a special alternative program instead.

Ms. Rain is the kindhearted teacher of the alternative program, and she instills in Precious the belief that she has the ability to learn to read, get her GED, and maybe even go to college. Precious soon comes to view an education as a ticket out of her living hell, so she works hard at it. She actually makes a lot of progress, too.

But Precious runs into another obstacle after she actually has her second baby. This one is a boy, whom she names Abdul, and does not have Down Syndrome like her first child, Mongo (yes, that’s short for “Mongoloid”). As soon as she brings Abdul home, Mary goes crazy, saying that Precious “stole” her man and thinks she’s better than Mary because she has more kids now. Mary attacks Precious, who finally fights back, grabs Abdul, and runs back to the school after she realizes she has nowhere else to go. Ms. Rain and the other staff members call in a few favors, and get Precious set up at a halfway house.

Later, Mary meets with Precious and social worker Ms. Weiss to ask Precious to come back home. Mary also says that Carl died from AIDS and that Precious should get tested. Precious is strong enough to stand up to Mary now, so she just takes her children and continues staying at the halfway house. Precious subsequently learns that she is HIV-positive, but Abdul is not. She decides to keep on working towards her education, believing that good things will happen in the end.

Liked:

  • I liked Precious as narrator. She was portrayed realistically, and had thoughts and opinions that a 16-year-old in her situation would have.
  • It was interesting to see how Precious retained a positive outlook on life no matter what was happening to her. It would have been much easier to just give up, fade into “the system”, and let her problems overpower her, but she didn’t do that. Amazing.
  • I thought the Mary character was frightening (in a good way, if that makes any sense). The descriptions of her were quite vivid, so I could clearly picture that woman sitting around smoking and eating all day, collecting welfare and social security disability checks, and berating Precious over every little thing. Unfortunately, there probably are mothers exactly like her in this world, which is a very scary thought. Still, this was one of the most clearly drawn characters I’ve ever come across in a book, and that deserves some recognition.
  • I really enjoyed the storytelling here. The content was very tough to handle, but it was nevertheless told in a wonderful way. I was engrossed from beginning to end (almost), and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Precious next.

Disliked:

  • The only thing I really disliked about this book was the ending. I thought giving page time to all the journal excerpts from students in Precious’ class weakened the ending and dampened the effect. We hadn’t really gotten to know the other students up to that point, so I wasn’t all that interested in their backstories anyway. I think the focus should have been squarely on Precious all the way through.

Rating

I thought Push by Sapphire was a great book. I’d never read anything like this before, and was quite overwhelmed by the story. Precious is a character I’m not going to forget anytime soon, nor will I ever forget the brutalities she faced and survived. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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