Push by Sapphire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I love it when a book--any book--is hot property. This is certainly the case these days for "Push," which I bought from a book vendor on 125th street. because the title was so popular the weekend "Precious" came out he had to summon another vendor who came sprinting down the street, book in hand.
So is "Push" any good, hype aside? Yes. It's a quick read, and a painful read--Sapphire doesn't pull any punches and her heroine suffers every kind of tribulation imaginable--but I found it incredibly worthwhile first as an example of experimental narrative, second as an incredibly real window into a place and time and a person's psyche. Precious--the abused teen who tells our story-- improves her literacy as she writes, thanks to a second chance school and a visionary teacher, Blu Rain. This leads not only to a leap forward in her ability to tell her story as we read on, but also a new sense of self, an expansion of her goals, an ability to question, if not abandon, the things she repeated like a mantra early on in her tale. As in the film "Precious", you are witness to the awakening of a human being years into her life, "the birth of a soul" to steal the promotional copy.
More than the film, though, which aims for a certain degree of universality, Sapphire's "Push" is meant to really expose conditions in Harlem in the 1980s. This is evidenced by a lot of specific cultural references, but also by the book's coda, which is the collection of writing done by the girls in Precious's class. Each one of their stories rivals hers for horror and sadness, painting a picture of a lost generation of girls, a few of whom have found some light in the darkness by learning the tools of self-expression.
The book is valuable on its own, and is also an interesting counterweight to urban narratives of deprivation and redemption that have a male perspective, like my beloved "Down These Mean Streets."
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