PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

-Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

22 Responses

  1. It looks like I’m the first to comment…What a powerful review of a powerful book. I couldn’t read The Blue Notebook but I feel compelled to read Push! You touched on so many important topics that this book covers and it does sound like a book that is a must read. You have shared your own experiences that must have been painful to share and revisit. You honesty is touching and you sound like a strong woman today! Thanks for sharing this with us and your review has made me want to read this book and see the movie that much more. The movie is playing across town and my book club friends want to go see it this month so I may be seeing the movie before I read the book.

    • sometimes the movies are more enjoyable when you’ve not read the book first. I know just from the trailer that it’s not 100% in line with the book (what book-to-movie ever is?), and I’ll have to remind myself that Sapphire did approve it, and I can have faith in her and those who made it that they’d never want to cheapen the meaning and purpose of the book.

      I wonder how much of the sexual abuse by the mom the movie will deal with, or how much of the Precious’s babies’ parentage will be discussed. Also, there is the subject of homosexuality and AIDS that I’ve not seen much mention in the trailers, so I’m curious of all that sort of things.

  2. What a great review – your passion is infectious. It sounds like it is a very difficult but rewarding novel to read – when I read it I will be paying close attention to the ways I react to the content, as you have.

  3. Wow also to your post, to your honesty. You did an amazing job with your review. I would like to win this book. Thanks!

    suko95(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. I love this book too and I have to tell you that your review is fantastic! You have to see the movie – they did a fantastic job with it! I enjoyed the interview with Sapphire.

    • It’s one of the few books that have wrung me out emotionally writing the review, and worth every ounce of it. I remembered your review of both the book and the movie, and remembered how much you were affected by it, as well.

      I cannot wait until next month when it’s out on DVD.

  5. This book sounds like it will be an emotional, powerful read! I own it and I need to read it. I want to read it before the Oscars or at least see the movie (but I’ve been wanting to read the book for a while but it wasn’t until I saw the movie trailer that I really felt pushed *pun intended,haha* to read the book).

    Amazing review! Very well-written and thought out. I’m glad to hear it’s not anti-white, anti-men and what a great excerpt to share from the story :)

    • Ari, it is a fast read, though emotionally deep. I’m not one to read a book in a day, it usually takes me about 4 days or so, at least. That should give you an idea of how quickly it goes. Maybe a good weekend read? When you have a chance to take it in a single setting (you just won’t want to put it down).

      Thanks for stopping by :-)

  6. You know, I honestly have no interest in reading the book at all, but I really enjoyed your review and also your analysis of the role of race and racism in the novel.

    • Yeah, there’s no doubt that a lot of people would not want to read this book, the subject matter it deals with is very hard and heavy. I know from when I was reading The Blue Notebook that a lot of people prefer reading to escape the realities of life, that reading is their pleasure. This type of book is definitely not a pleasure read. I’m glad you did enjoyed the review, though :-)

  7. This may be your longest review ever but not a word was wasted. Fantastic! It sounds like this is very hard to read but it also has a powerful message. You got that message and have passed it on. I look forward to it now because of you. And I think I’m going to need a lot of fluff to read after! Excellent review!

  8. […] PUSH by Sapphire […]

  9. Thank you for writing an in-depth review of a book that covers such important subject matter! I have yet to see the movie, as I wanted to read the book first. I am most drawn to Push by the many social messages and sensitive issues contained within its pages, and reading your review has only added to my conviction that this is one book that is not to be missed.

  10. You have written a fantastic review of Push. I cannot wait to read the book although I am going to brace myself for some of the things I will read just before I start. I wasn’t aware of how many monumental issues in today’s society are covered in this book…and covered very well it sounds like. I have had a little bit of experience with child protective services and the neglect and abuse of children. It shocked me to see that these children aren’t just abused and neglected at home but the people charged with helping these children often hurt them in other and a myriad of ways. The kids seem to get it from all sides. I hope this book has a profound effect on the people who are in positions to help kids from abusive and neglectful homes to make sure that they do their absolute best be sure these kids are helped, really helped each and every day. I thought I wanted to read Push but your review has let me know that I must read it. Thank you!

    ~ Amy

  11. I loved The Blue Notebook and thought Batuk was a strong character. I believe her acceptance of the situation was from total hopelessness. This was her new normal. I have not read Push yet but it is on my requested list from the library. My friend highly recommended it and her comments sound very similar to what you have said in your review- which was great.

  12. Your honesty on all fronts makes this a powerful review. Very few survivors can share openly like you.

    I read the book and the movie. The movie’s stylized scenes distract from the ugliness of the story but I assume all parties felt the audience needed the relief. Reading the book was draining.

    Kudos for a thorough and honest review. Thank you.

    • I think that NOT being open and sharing things takes the power away from me and gives it back to the abuser. Sure, it’s a painful thing to talk about, but if I pull it out of the dark corners and throw it down in the light, it will shrivel and wither and die. I don’t think one ever “gets over it”, but you can learn to function around it.

  13. You do have to remember that this book is set during the 80s, so race relations have obviously changed to some extent since then. Also, a screenshot of one fictitious character’s experience is not an accurate way to gauge how a majority of people feel. It bugs me that white guilt has spawned a whole genre of movies where the sole white star is also the only inspiring, worthwhile, almost saintly presence in a helpless black person’s life. So as a black in america, depending on where you live, you see unfair, clearly racist verdicts in court cases, which support assertions that whites wield control over blacks. And from white hollywood itself you get the impression that if you hang in there, some white person on his white horse will fix your problems for you.

    • That’s a very interesting point I hadn’t ever considered. Even in trying to do good and make up for past wrongs, it can be harmful and condescending. Thanks for commenting.

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