A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Brattle Theater in Cambridge to see Sapphire (author of Push) talk about her new book The Kid. Her reading was out-of-this-world. She read with a soothing rhythm using different voices for different characters, raising her voice up and down appropriately, and pausing for emphasis. It was truly delightful to hear her read, and the excerpts she chose made me eager to pick up The Kid.
I bought a copy at the talk from the Harvard bookstore; it was the first time I’ve paid full price for a book in a very long time. She signed it and I intended to give the book to my dad once I finished. (side note: I gave him Push for Christmas a few years ago and thought it only natural to also gift him the sequel.) However, after reading it I’m not sure I want to give it to him (sorry dad, if you’re reading this). Let me tell you why…
The protagonist, Abdul Jones, is Precious’s son from Push. Precious dies from AIDS and The Kid begins with her funeral when Abdul is 9 years old. The opening scene is hauntingly beautiful, tragic, and morbid (it is arguably the best scene in the whole book). He attends the funeral and then almost immediately after is put into foster care. In foster care, he is beaten up and molested for the first time, which sets a standard for future graphic and horrific scenes. I would not recommend this book if you shy from graphic sex and/or violence and cursing.
The story follows Abdul through his young life and well into his teenage years as he grows up, fights for security and sanity, and begins to take refuge in dancing. Dance is a huge theme in this story and Abdul’s relationship with dance seems to parallel Precious’s relationship with language in Push. For both, dance and language respectively are forms of expression and ultimately healing. However, Abdul never reaches the same level of healing that Precious does. She was a victim and she overcame that with the help of her friends and teacher. Abdul is also a victim but he internalizes those feelings and instead of recovering, he becomes a victimizer.
Abdul is no innocent character by any means, but the first person, stream-of-consciousness writing allows you to identify with him in a way that can be disturbing. The craft of this book is admirable (she’s heavily influenced by Toni Morrison). Sapphire shows you just the tip of the iceberg, which is often disorienting. Dreams, memories, events, are all connected; sometimes you don’t know what is real and what isn’t. The madness that ensues is oppressive. I found myself wanting to throw my hands up or say: What the eff is going on?! But I’m glad that I powered through because though this was a difficult read, it was incredible.