“Push” by Sapphire: A challenge worth taking

For those of you holding your breath, waiting to see what I chose to read and why, go ahead and exhale. I have awoken and am here to provide the answers.

Just to recap, I had finished two books in one day—one on CD and one on paper—and had no idea what I was going to read. Despite my perfectly rational thoughts that I might not wake up if I went to bed when not in the middle of a book, I did awake the next morning and had to face the daunting challenge not only of what to read, but what to read on a long car trip.

On car trips, I like to bring mass market paperbacks so I can finish them up and throw them out and get them out of my book boxes in the basement or off my shelves. And because I’m not a great one for reading in the car (other people’s driving gives me stress fits), it has to be easily digestible.

That’s why I made the obvious choice of “Push” by Sapphire. (That last sentence was in Sarcasm font, in case your computer doesn’t have it.) PushThis novel has been on my shelves for a while, and I started reading it once, but put it down for reasons I can’t recall. So I knew that while the subject matter is not, the prose is easy to get through.

I first heard of this novel when the movie came out. Now, I don’t know what the movie’s official title is, but all the advertising for this 2009 Oscar winner called it, “Precious based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” Because I’d never heard of “Push” or Sapphire, I was bothered by this. Is the novel called “Push by Sapphire” and if so what the hell does that mean? Is Sapphire an author I should know? Is that why it’s so important her name is in the title? Like when “Clueless” came out based on Jane Austen’s “Emma.” I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions, and I clearly thought about it. A lot.

Anyway, I eventually discovered that Sapphire was a female author, that “Push” was her second novel and that it is, indeed, a powerful and horrifying tale of a young girl trying to desperately pull herself out of poverty against all odds.

Sixteen and illiterate, Precious is pregnant again. The baby’s father is her own father, the product of constant rape. The first baby—a severely retarded child she calls Little Mongo—was also her father’s, born when Precious was 12.

It’s not all bleak, a couple social workers and teachers at an alternative school for those like Precious who are at a level far below their grade, light the embers of learning Precious has kept smoldering within her. She promises to do better, because her baby deserves it. This is harrowing reading and, if I’m completely honest, I skimmed some parts and not just because my wife was tailgating someone rather than tapping the brakes to turn off the cruise control. I can get the jist of the sexual and emotional abuse Precious faces daily without having to focus on the details. The language is blunt and unflinching; Sapphire calls a you-know-what a you-know-what. Using them so much almost blunts the power of the words. Almost.

Ultimately, though, “Push” is a story of hope and redemption, though it’s unfinished. Precious comes a long way, but there is so much road left to travel and she must make her own path, because she has few people who can show her the way.

At a bookstore I stopped in shortly after finishing “Push” I came across the sequel by Sapphire. (No, not “Sequel by Sapphire” but “Boy” by Sapphire.) It’s the story of Precious’ second child whom we meet in “Push.” At 400 pages, it seemed daunting and a quick perusal of the book let me know that the boy has just as horrible a time of it that Precious did. I won’t be reading it.

I prefer to take comfort in Precious’ ability to rise above everything that’s keeping her down, even if she isn’t able to do it for long.


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