Push by Sapphire is the third book in our monthly series featuring black authors. The movie, Precious, starring Academy Award nominee, Gabourey Sidibe was based on the book and caused some confusion. Many people thought that the name of the book was Precious as well. Push was released in 1996, 13 years before it was made into a movie. Sapphire began writing Push in 1993 just as she was about to leave her job as a remedial reading teacher in Harlem to attend Brooklyn College’s MFA program. The book is based on her experiences and the women she met as a result of her job.
Push By Sapphire: About the Book
Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem’s casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as she learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it truly her own for the first time.
Push is a slight book, with only 177 pages. It will take you more time than you think to read the novel though. It is written in a unique way, entirely from the perspective of Precious. The character began the novel as illiterate and the writing doesn’t just take you inside of her head. It also is written journal style. As the character becomes more literate, her writing changes too. At the beginning, many words are spelled phonetically, but this changes throughout the novel in keeping with her progress with reading and spelling.
This is a gritty book, and can be difficult to read, not only because of the phonetic writing style at the beginning, but because of the continuous suffering of the main character. The abuse of Precious can be difficult to read about, especially because she is so used to it that the references to it almost become casual. There is something so touching about the character though.
For all of the suffering that she has gone through, she still wants more for her life and for her children. Reading was not an escape for her, but a gateway to hope. It gave her the hope of education, a normal life and even the possibility of love without abuse. Precious had so many strikes against her. She was locked out by her illiteracy, her abuse and her race. Once she learned how to read, she became someone who knew that her dreams were valid.
Sapphire’s debut is incredible. To be able to write a story in a way that reflects illiteracy but in a readable way is difficult. She succeeded. She also succeeded in writing a book that doesn’t show that things were perfect once the character achieved her goal. It is realistic and gritty. If you haven’t read this book yet, pick it up. It’s not an easy subject, nor is it an easy book, but it is powerful and you will have an opinion about it.