push cover

In her first novel ‘Push’, Sapphire introduces us to Precious Jones and her world of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, obesity and her indomitable will to survive. Precious lives in Harlem with a drifting father, who pit-stops to sleep with her, and an obese mother whose fingers explore between Precious’s legs. Precious dreams of escaping the abuse and changing her life and shares her story in a strong, raw voice, that makes you laugh, cringe and feel for her sixteen years of life.

‘Push’ has a cast of powerful, realistic characters that makes a convincing, credible story. Precious is not particularly likeable at the start with her vulgar language and self loathing but her voice is so powerful and her plight so heart wrenching that it compels the reader to turn the page. It’s not until Precious displays attitude and an iron will to beat her abuse, illiteracy and change her stagnant life that we warm to her, and once she bears her father’s second child and embraces life’s challenges we respect and love her. We push her on in alternative school, read her diary and powerful poetry and share her struggles as she strives to reach her dream of getting her G.E.D to go to college and eventually find a home for herself and her son.

The book is told in first person but in the early stages there’s a nine page transition to third person limited to Precious’s point of view, giving readers an interlude from the usual colloquial language. It is such a smooth shift that it nearly goes unnoticed until it subtly changes back to Precious’s rough voice.  Although her voice is powerful, sometimes the narrative is hard to follow as her vocabulary is made up of slang and misspelled words like “fahver”, “muver”, “nothin’”, “hafta”, but it’s not enough to discourage readers to put the book down. As Precious learns to read and write her voice notably changes and spelling improves. This makes the narrative smooth and readers proud of her triumph.

Through the putrid smell of Harlem, rape, vaginas, obese bodies and the haze of abuse emerges a woman who finds her own identity. With a simple yet gripping plot, ‘Push’ is a book that often leaves a bad taste in your mouth but a soft spot in your heart. The novel invites discussions on themes like friendship, love, ugly vs. beauty, sexually transmitted diseases, dysfunctional families, abuse, self esteem and loving and respecting ourselves. Young adult readers will undoubtedly be shocked, yet riveted by Precious’s life and should be inspired to raise their voice and speak out about abuse and confronting issues in today’s society and be more open to blunt, in-your-face literature.

‘Push’ is now a movie called ‘Precious’ directed by Lee Daniels and has won 3 awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Let’s hope it does the book justice.

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