Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of “Push” by Sapphire. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.
Content Warning: Please note that this guide discusses topics in the book such as rape, sexual abuse, incest, slurs, profanity, drugs, and drug addiction.
Sapphire is the pen name of author Ramona Lofton. She published her first novel, Push, in 1996; in 2009 it was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film Precious. Sapphire continued the story with a 2011 sequel called The Kid, which focuses on Abdul, Precious’s son. Push is narrated by Precious, a Black teenager whose school expels her at the age of 16 because she is pregnant. The child is her second, conceived by her father after a lifetime of rape, molestation, and abuse. Precious has always felt invisible, wearing her large body and attitude as armor while the education, social work, and justice systems fail to teach and protect her. In an alternative education program, Precious meets other women who have been victimized and forced into invisibility, developing a new family made up of people who see her, encourage her, and show her love for the first time in her life.
Push resembles a modern-day The Color Purple, which Precious engages with as she learns how to read. Set nearly 100 years earlier than Push, Alice Walker’s novel unfolds through the perspective of Celie, who is also repeatedly raped and impregnated by her father. The reception of Push echoed some of the controversy surrounding The Color Purple, with some critics arguing that the novel portrayed Black men in a negative light, offering no redemption for Precious’s abusive father. During the production of the film, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher was so upset about this depiction that he left the project. Sapphire, however, was also a victim of childhood sexual assault by her father, and the world she depicts in the novel is one that she has argued needs to be made visible.
Precious is a young woman who has fallen through the cracks of society, and she wonders constantly if others would see her or treat her like she mattered if she were whiter or prettier. The teacher of the alternative class, Ms. Rain, critiques The Color Purple for its idealistic happy ending. In contrast, the ending of Push is more realistic. Precious works toward self-empowerment through education, community, and her own parenting, but the trauma of abuse and neglect leaves permanent scars, altering her life in indelible ways. She is living with HIV and the knowledge that it will significantly shorten her life. She has a son to raise while she is still growing up herself. Childbirth has permanently marked her body. Nevertheless, Precious learns that while the past cannot be erased or undone, she can—with some help—start where she is and pull herself up. No matter how much damage she has endured, Precious discovers that she has value and deserves to be loved.
Precious is a 16-year-old Black girl in 1987 Harlem who is kicked out of school because she is pregnant for the second time. She gave birth to her first child, a girl with Down syndrome, when she was 12; like her current pregnancy, this was the result of her father raping her. Precious enjoys school, but she has had to hide the fact that she is illiterate. Her mother, who is also physically and sexually abusive, sees Precious as a romantic rival rather than a rape victim and uses her to collect welfare while refusing to leave the apartment.
An administrator at the public school that expelled Precious recommends an alternative school called Each One Teach One. Precious lands in the pre-GED reading class taught by Blue Rain; her fellow students are women with similarly traumatic pasts. Precious learns to read and write, starting with the alphabet.
When she goes home from the hospital after giving birth to her son, Abdul, her mother attacks her and she runs away. Precious is homeless, but Ms. Rain and the staff of the school help place her and Abdul in a halfway house. Precious thrives and writes poetry, teaching her son to read from an early age and dreaming of gaining custody of her daughter. Then one day her mother comes to see her: Precious’s father has died of AIDS. Precious is tested and learns that she is HIV-positive. She despairs, questioning why so many terrible things happen to her, certain that if she were light-skinned and thin, she wouldn’t have had to endure so much pain.
Ms. Rain and Precious’s friends urge her to keep fighting. She goes to support groups and discovers that all different kinds of women—even those who are white, pretty, and rich—experience incest, rape, and HIV. Her state-supplied counselor convinces her to meet with her mother, who wants Precious to come home so she can collect benefits. However, when asked about the abuse, she defends Precious’s father and expresses jealousy over having to share him with her. Precious walks away from her mother and moves on with her life. In the end, she is sad that she might not have much time left, but she is determined to live in the moment with the son she loves while continuing to strive for a better future. In an epilogue, the members of the class share their personal stories, compiled into a class book.