The larger audience attracted by the award-winning adaptation of the author’s debut novel (Push, 1996, adapted into the film Precious) will recognize this sequel as "Son of Precious."
A poet and teacher, Sapphire created a literary sensation with the publication of Push. Yet that novel had even greater impact more than a decade later as the source material for Precious, the success of which might well have spawned this longer, more ambitious follow-up. Readers might remember the birth of a son in that novel, the second baby for the precocious teenager who was repeatedly raped by her father. The boy mainly existed in the margins of Push, and this is his story, one of adolescent turbulence and shifting identities, from a narrator who has difficulty distinguishing his dream life from the shifting realities of his existence. And so will readers. Those hoping for more of Precious will be disappointed to learn that the novel opens with mention of her funeral, as the narrator quickly finds himself shunted from one of his mother’s friends to a foster home to a Catholic orphanage, from which he is delivered to his great-grandmother (who delivers an impassioned soliloquy on her migration from Mississippi to New York) after the discovery of a bureaucratic foul-up. Various names accompany his abrupt changes of address, with “Abdul,” “Crazy Horse” and “J.J.” among the labels attached to a boy who at 13 could pass for an adult. His sexuality is equally ambiguous; though he doesn’t think of himself as gay, he finds himself prey for older men and develops an appetite for smaller boys. He’s also smart, articulate and a gifted dancer, as he moves from the patronage of a dance teacher (who takes sexual or at least emotional advantage) to an experimental company where both his sexuality and hold on reality are challenged. The author plainly embraces an aesthetic she ascribes to a dance piece—“It’s controlled where it needs to be and wild and free where it can be”—though the novel might benefit from a little more of the former at the expense of the latter.
Powerful and disturbing, though not always coherent.