On the shelf: ‘Push’ by Sapphire

By Lisa Boss, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main


“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.” ~ The Talmud


Push is a beautiful, strong novel that reads like raw poetry. The narrator, Claireece Precious Jones, speaks right to our heart, in an original, spare, untouched way. Physically, mentally and sexually abused by both of her loathsome parents, she has “slipped through the cracks” of myriad social welfare systems and finds herself pregnant with her father’s second baby at age 16. Illiterate, obese, friendless and despairing; half crazed from her torturous home situation, Precious experiences times of fading into and out of awareness.


One incident is going to bring about seismic changes in her life though —


This author grabs us by the neck and makes us think and makes us mad.  When did incest, child abuse, institutional failure and depraved people lose the power to shock us? The saddest part is that it’s one more look into the “banality of evil” and our fascination with it. As one of the girls from Precious’s new alternate school, “Each One Teach One” says, “Everybody likes to hear that story. Tell us more tell us more more MORE about being a dope addict and a whore!” But there’s a lot more to the story than that, and the end is well worth the beginning. If it seems a little gritty at times, remember that former First Lady Barbara Bush highly recommends it.


Sapphire reminded me of Charles Dickens, writing about the deplorable conditions of his time in Victorian England. Both authors want to move us to action with their unforgettable characters and fast-paced plot. This isn’t a book anyone will put down midway.


We may not want to see what Sapphire shows us in her mirror, but we look anyway. It’s good that we do, because everyone will take away something different and something valuable from this short volume.