Push by Sapphire

I normally read the first few lines of a book before I buy it.  This is a habit I picked up from an old poetry professor of mine who was guiding me on how to buy a book of poetry.  ‘Read the first poem, then the last poem, and then a random poem in between before you buy it.’

Basically, if the first line hooks you, then it’ll be worth a try.

Famous first line, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (A Tale of Two Cities), and  ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ (Pride and Prejudice).

The first line of Push reads: ‘I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver.’.

If that line doesn’t grip you right away, then I don’t know what will.

Push wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.  I’m not sure what I thought it might be, but I knew it was an Oprah favourite, and therefore required a box of tissues.

I was pleasantly surprised:  it isn’t a 3rd person narrative about the hardships of a young girl’s life.

It’s a 1st person narrative, by the girl in question, written in vernacular, reminiscent of The Color Purple (which is one of my favourites).

The first person dialogue is with the reader, not some unknown entity, sometimes sounding like a diary, and sometimes asking the reader a direct question.  She is honest, and unsympathetic to herself.  But despite her lack of sympathy, the reader will begin to sympathise with her, almost longing to soothe her.

Precious speaks candidly about her past, about being raped by her father; but though she feels ashamed of this part of her history, she does not censor her own recollection of it.  The past is brutally displayed on the pages, unjustified by Precious, and without emotion.

We enter Precious’s story at a turning point;  she’s just been expelled from school for being pregnant, and she’s living at home with her abusive mother.  Her principle hounds her at home to attend an Alternative school to get her GED, and Precious, though she is against receiving any sort of charity, is intrigued.  She wants to learn.

This is where Precious meets her mentor, Ms Blue Rain, a no-nonsense but gentle teacher, who patiently teaches Precious and a few others how to read and write.  Ms Rain, though a sympathetic character, has moments where she shows her mettle, thus gaining the trust and respect of the entire class, who are all hardworn, street-smart and tough.

Precious adores Ms Rain, not only for guiding her through her studies, but also for being able to see in Ms Rain, what Precious might become, or might have become.  Precious, however, frustrated and isolated by her situation, sometimes lashes out at Ms Rain, but instantly feels ashamed.

Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but sa, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side….I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.” I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!” I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!” I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarass, stupid;…

Ms Rain pushes the class to write in their journals every day, every moment they can, and that’s when the reader may question if the book is Precious’s journal.  Her vernacular becomes better throughout the book; the corrections she makes on her own spelling and punctuation, and her writing becoming more prose than conversational.  This tool reminded me instantly of Flowers for Algernon, the reader learning along with Precious and seeing her progression and her learning taking place before our very eyes.

I would recommend this book; and it’s a quick read.  No, there weren’t any tissues for me at any point.  Precious doesn’t require any sympathy and would not have anyone feeling sorry for her.

It’s a story of enlightenment, but more than that, it’s a story about pushing ahead to the next stage, overcoming the obstacles that hold us all back.

Also recommended:

The Colour Purple – Alice Walker

Sula – Toni Morrison


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