“Push” by Sapphire

Title: Push
Author: Sapphire
ISBN: 9780679766759
Pages: 192
Release date: April 29, 1997
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

Precious Jones is an illiterate young black woman who has never left her native Harlem. She is pregnant with her second child, a product of rape. For her entire life, she’s been abused and overlooked: her parents have both used her sexually and violently; the school system has failed her; and she’s never had a friend, much less a boyfriend. Now, she’s been suspended from her middle school, and the only option her mother suggests is getting on welfare.

But Precious is not about to give up. She is determined to make her life–and, more importantly, the lives of her children–better. The only thing that scares her is becoming like her parents.

She enrolls in an alternative school, where she begins learning to read and write. Her teacher, Ms. Rain, is kind and supportive, and Precious flourishes in her classroom. Precious strives to be a person worth remembering, worth listening to, worth loving. She compares most of her life to a movie with vampires that act and talk and look like real people, but when their pictures are taken they are invisible:

I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. Don’t nobody want me. Don’t nobody need me. I know who I am. I know who they say I am–vampire sucking the system’s blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for. I wanna say I am somebody. . . . I talk loud but still I don’t exist.

Precious learns more at the alternative school than simply reading and writing; she learns how to change the direction of her life. Along the way, she meets scores of women who have suffered much as she has, and she finds strength as she struggles to find a better life.

At times, Precious’s honesty is brutal:

How cum I’m so young and feel so old. So young like I don’t know nuffin’, so old like I know everything. A girl have her father’s dick in her mouth know things the other girls don’t know but it’s not what you want to know.

This was not an easy book to read, even though it was short. It will keep you up at night thinking about everything Precious endured and overcame.

This book came highly recommended from many of my friends, in whom it doubtless provoked a strong reaction, but few could put into words exactly how it is so powerful and why I should read it. They tried, of course; I’d heard Push was brutal, brilliant, a must-read, incredibly depressing, and eye-opening. And all of that is true. But what I hadn’t heard is how optimistic a book it is.

The reality of Precious’s life will never go away. The things that were done to her, the injustices that she must suffer for the rest of her life, can never be erased. But despite all of that, Precious perseveres. She hopes, she dreams, she laughs. She is a lesson in optimism for anyone who has faced oppression and abuse.

Push is a powerful book. It exposes the pain of abuse and the injustice of public and social services, but more than that, it presents a strong black heroine who takes her own life into her hands, despite what has and will happen to her.

This was made into an award-winning movie, “Precious,” which I have not yet seen. What did you think–did you read the book or see the movie?

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Push for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

9 replies »

    • Thanks! And yes, I agree; I’m posting my review of “The Kid” tomorrow, and I did not enjoy it (to put it mildly). And I’m glad you like my challenge! I’ve gotta get the shelves under control any way I can.


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