Push Summary

Sapphire

Push

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Push Summary

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The American fiction writer and poet Sapphire was born Ramona Lofton in 1950. Her first novel, Push, was published in 1996 and a little over a decade later became the Academy Award winning film Precious. In 2011, Sapphire published a follow-up to Push with the novel The Kid, which focuses on the life of Abdul Jones, the son of Precious. Push is written in the first-person narrative voice of Precious. The spelling and grammar, along with the dialect used, indicate that the narrator is functionally illiterate.

As the novel opens, sixteen-year-old Claireece Precious Jones is beset with myriad problems. She is illiterate and grossly overweight. She lives with Mary, her abusive mother, in New York City’s Harlem and is pregnant with her second child, which, like her first child (a girl with Down Syndrome whom Precious had when she was twelve) is the result of having been raped by her father. When her school finds out that she is pregnant, it is decided that Precious will be placed in an alternate program, which angers her. A school counselor meets with her and persuades her to try a school called Higher Education Alternative Each One Teach One at the Hotel Theresa.  She agrees to try it although her mother is pushing for her to go on welfare.

Once enrolled at the new school Precious meets Ms. Blue Rain, who will be her teacher, and a group of classmates made up of Rita, Jo Ann, Jermaine, Rhonda, and Consuelo, all of whom come from troubled situations. Ms. Rain teaches the girls in a GED preparation course in which the students all function below the grade eight level in reading and writing so are ill prepared for high school work. Ms. Rain is able to engage the girls, including Precious, as she teaches them literacy skills in spite of their severe deficits in basic academics. She has them write in journals every day, believing that daily practice is the only way their writing will improve. She gives them much feedback and encouragement which eventually results in a class anthology of their autobiographical pieces. Among the authors the teacher uses to inspire the girls are Alice Walker and Langston Hughes.

The birth of Precious’ second child, Abdul Jamal Louis Jones, inadvertently leads to problems for Mary. While talking to a social worker in the hospital in which she gives birth, Precious mentions that her first child lives with her grandmother. This results in her mother losing her welfare benefits. Upon returning home from the hospital with her newborn son, Precious finds an infuriated Mary, who throws her out of the house. Finding herself homeless and on her own, Precious spends a night at an armory and then turns to Ms. Rain for help. The teacher is able to place her in a halfway house that can provide child care. This brings, likely for the first time ever, a sense of stability to Precious’ life, and with it the ability to complete her education. Her skills improve and she begins writing poetry, ultimately gaining much confidence when she is awarded a literacy prize by the mayor’s office for her improvement.

With her educational needs and other areas of her life now flowing in a positive direction, Precious allows herself to imagine having a true relationship with someone her own age.  The only experience with sex she has had up to this point in her life has been being sexually abused and raped by her father and molested by her mother as well. While struggling to move forward in her life and away from the degradations suffered at the hands of her parents, Precious is visited by her mother, who informs her that her father has died from AIDS. HIV testing indicates that Precious is HIV positive but that neither of her children are. Rita gets Precious to join support groups for both incest survivors and for those who are positive for HIV. The groups prove beneficial for Precious, who comes to realize that women from all walks of life suffer the same things she has, and that her background was not the cause of the abuse. Her long-term future is not made clear at the end of the book.

In its review of Push, Publishers Weekly praises Sapphire’s creation of her central character, saying, “With this much anticipated first novel, told from the point of view of an illiterate, brutalized Harlem teenager, Sapphire (American Dreams), a writer affiliated with the Nuyorican poets, charts the psychic damage of the most ghettoized of inner-city inhabitants. Sapphire has created a remarkable heroine in Precious, whose first-person street talk is by turns blisteringly savvy, rawly lyrical, hilariously pig-headed and wrenchingly vulnerable. Yet that voice begs to be heard in a larger novel of more depth and complexity.”