PUSH by Sapphire


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 Poet Sapphire's slim first novel draws on her experience as a performance artist and literacy teacher: She tells her sad but sentimentally uplifting story in the voice of a 17-year-old illiterate from Harlem, and the result is more sociological (in the Ricki Lake mold) than literary. Clareece Precious Jones is a study in abuse. Continually raped by her father since the age of five, she's now pregnant for the second time with his baby, the first having been born with Down's syndrome when Precious was 12. Meantime, her mother is no help, calling the overweight girl a ``fat cunt bucket slut,'' beating her at will, and satisfying her own bizarre sexual needs from her daughter. Schools have also all failed her; teachers find her ``uncooperative,'' and she considers her last a ``retarded hoe.'' Finally, Precious enrolls in a Harlem alternative school where she begins the tough climb out of illiteracy. No longer dreaming impossible ideas about rappers and movie star fame, she joins six others in a basic-skills class run by Blue Rain, a self-proclaimed lesbian who isn't afraid to editorialize in class. In short order, Precious discovers the joys of the alphabet and journal-writing, the pleasures of owning books and composing poetry. Although she raises herself to a seventh-grade level by narrative's end, she also finds out she's HIV positive. All of this is transcribed in a phonetic spelling that's supposed to reflect Precious's actual abilities, but seems condescending--and woefully unauthentic--since Sapphire often loses control of the voice. The homage to The Color Purple (``One thing I say about Farrakhan and Alice Walker they help me like being black'') highlights Sapphire's commercial aspirations, as well as, by contrast, her technical inadequacies. A maudlin (at times pornographic) advertisement for the power of literacy and the value of recovery groups. (First printing of 150,000)

Pub Date: June 28th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44626-5
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996


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