Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Push by Sapphire

(Don't let the cover you fool you. The novel inside is Push. Publishers re-covered it and titled it Precious because the movie was titled Precious rather than Push. The only difference as far as I can tell is this edition includes a reader's guide and a picture of the movie actor.)

I have had Push on hold at the library since February. I finally broke down and bought my own copy this weekend because I really wanted to read it! Once I had the book in hand I read it in two sittings. It's not long but more than that it's a story that needs to be read continuously. It would be a difficult book to put down after reading only a page or two at a time.

I would be hard pressed to say I *enjoyed* reading Push. The story is far from enjoyable - the plot revolves around a 16 year old girl who is pregnant for the second time by her father who has repeatedly raped her. Her mother beats her upon discovering Precious' first pregnancy at the age of 12 for "stealing her man." It's a sad look at life in contemporary Harlem. However, I am very glad I read this book.

I first heard about Push as a suggested book for high school students in an inner-city school. Having finished it, I can understand the logic behind choosing this book. For many contemporary students, the issues Precious deals with are more true-to-life than what Huck Finn encounters (sadly). I am torn as an educator however. Sapphire writes the book from the perspective of an illiterate teen: the spelling and grammar is non-existent. In an English class, while I can appreciate the use of slang and dialect, I would never want to give students the message that writing so poorly is a good way to get a book published. I would still want my students to write correctly. I do think it would be interesting to pair Push with a classroom study of the Harlem Renaissance. Precious lives on Lenox Avenue and talks about Langston Hughes. Using the book as a commentary on what has or has not changed in African-American society might be really relevant.

As an aside, the style of the book reminded me of Daniel Keye's classic story Flowers for Algernon. Like Charlie, Precious's dialogue, writing, and ability to express herself grow throughout the novel, showing the impact of her new education.

All in all, not a light beach read by any stretch of the imagination. But a worthy story that deserves to be told.

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Adding a final note. I watched The Blind Side this evening and really enjoyed it. Curious about the accuracy of the film, I started researching it online. I ended up reading an article talking about why The Blind Side has been a better-received film than Precious: an interesting discussion about social perceptions and presentations of young African Americans in mainstream media. But, to the point, I found an NPR article about Sapphire I wanted to share. At the very least I feel like my impressions of the writing are justified knowing Sapphire has an MFA and is versed in American literary traditions.

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