Reviews for Push


Kirkus Reviews 1996 April
~ Poet Sapphire's slim first novel draws on her experience as a performance artist and literacy teacher: She tells her sad but sentimentally uplifting story in the voice of a 17-year-old illiterate from Harlem, and the result is more sociological (in the Ricki Lake mold) than literary. Clareece Precious Jones is a study in abuse. Continually raped by her father since the age of five, she's now pregnant for the second time with his baby, the first having been born with Down's syndrome when Precious was 12. Meantime, her mother is no help, calling the overweight girl a ``fat cunt bucket slut,'' beating her at will, and satisfying her own bizarre sexual needs from her daughter. Schools have also all failed her; teachers find her ``uncooperative,'' and she considers her last a ``retarded hoe.'' Finally, Precious enrolls in a Harlem alternative school where she begins the tough climb out of illiteracy. No longer dreaming impossible ideas about rappers and movie star fame, she joins six others in a basic-skills class run by Blue Rain, a self-proclaimed lesbian who isn't afraid to editorialize in class. In short order, Precious discovers the joys of the alphabet and journal-writing, the pleasures of owning books and composing poetry. Although she raises herself to a seventh-grade level by narrative's end, she also finds out she's HIV positive. All of this is transcribed in a phonetic spelling that's supposed to reflect Precious's actual abilities, but seems condescending--and woefully unauthentic--since Sapphire often loses control of the voice. The homage to The Color Purple (``One thing I say about Farrakhan and Alice Walker they help me like being black'') highlights Sapphire's commercial aspirations, as well as, by contrast, her technical inadequacies. A maudlin (at times pornographic) advertisement for the power of literacy and the value of recovery groups. (First printing of 150,000) Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 1996 June
Performance poet Sapphire unflinchingly probes the consciousness of an all-too-real teenager from a severely abusive household. Push opens to find Precious fat, unloved, illiterate, deeply confused, routinely raped by her father, and physically and emotionally molested by her mother enduring her second incestuous pregnancy. Crawling from self-hatred and violent loneliness to determination and, occasionally, hope, Precious enters a pre-GED program, learns to read, bears her second child, and breaks from her parents, all under the inspiration of Blue Rain, her steadfastly encouraging and apparently tireless new teacher. Precious's name loses its irony but soon takes on a dark new meaning as she learns the extent of her father's abuse. Written as an internal monolog and journal entries by Precious, with her rudimentary spelling skills and abrupt transitions, Push is compelling, graphic, and occasionally facile but disturbing and not soon forgotten. Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/96.] Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 1996 February
A first novel by a highly touted African American poet will have an ambitious 150,000-copy first printing. Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1996 April #4
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. Obese, dark-skinned, HIV-positive, bullied by her sexually abusive mother, Clareece, Precious Jones is, at the novel's outset, pregnant for the second time with her father's child. (Precious had her first daughter at 12, named Little Mongo, "short for Mongoloid Down Sinder, which is what she is; sometimes what I feel I is. I feel so stupid sometimes. So ugly, worth nuffin.") Referred to a pilot program by an unusually solicitous principal, Precious comes under the experimental pedagogy of a lesbian miracle worker named, implausibly enough, Blue Rain. Under her angelic mentorship, Precious, who has never before experienced real nurturing, learns to voice her long suppressed feelings in a journal. As her language skills improve, she finds sustenance in writing poetry, in friendships and in support groups-one for "insect" survivors and one for HIV-positive teens. It is here that Sapphire falters, as her slim and harrowing novel, with its references to Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes and The Color Purple (a parallel the author hints at again and again), becomes a conventional, albeit dark and unresolved, allegory about redemption. The ending, composed of excerpts from the journals of Precious's classmates, lends heightened realism and a wider scope to the narrative, but also gives it a quality of incompleteness. 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. 150,000 first printing; first serial to the New Yorker; audio rights to Random; foreign rights sold to England, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Brazil. (June) Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information.

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