Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Push by Sapphire ★★★

Push2.5 Stars

*****This review may contain some vague spoilers******

I love to read gut-wrenching books. Almost everything that I'd heard about this one practically guaranteed that this would be gut-wrenching, so when I saw it, I picked it up.

And I thought the first third of this book was great. Seeing life through Precious's eyes was horrifying. Her turmoil and her pain and frustration and anger were very real to me and I felt like I could identify with the experiences she's had, even though her life is very different from my own. I thought that Sapphire did a great job with the first 1/3 of the book. She did a great job portraying an uneducated girl, sexually abused, hating herself, her mother, her father, not able to trust anyone, desperate for a better life for herself and her kids.

Unfortunately, the middle and last third were not nearly as good. I thought it lost focus a bit in the middle and I wasn't sure where it was going, but mainly I had two major issues... No resolution, and inconsistency of the writing.

This is the kind of book that doesn't really require an ending all tied up in a bow, because we're supposed to infer that Precious will keep fighting and keep trying until she accomplishes her goals. That's fine with me. It's an unresolved, but hopeful, ending. But what I felt was lacking was the resolution of Precious's mental and emotional states.

This is a girl who has been abused in every possible way all of her life, at the hands of both of her parents. The very people who are supposed to protect her are the ones hurting her, and fucking with her head as well, as if it is her fault that the abuse is occurring. Naturally, she has a plethora of issues to work through, but she doesn't trust the therapist assigned to her in the halfway house, so she never works through them. She never even opens up about them in session. She starts to once or twice at outside support groups, but never fully lets anything out. She's described as going into a sort of frozen state - unable to move or speak or do anything... She's just trapped in her own body and mind. I really wanted to see some sort of resolution regarding this aspect, even if it was just that she found a new therapist that she trusts.

It is true that her journal is an outlet, but it's not enough. She needs someone to help her understand what happened to her, to help her understand that it was not her fault, and how to deal with her feelings of abandonment and betrayal and self-loathing, and how to move forward in her life. It is not enough for me to assume that Precious eventually gets her GED and an apartment and a job that doesn't entail changing some elderly person's diapers and that everything is golden from then on... I need for her emotional and mental progress to match her progress with learning to read and write. And it did not. Which is disappointing to me.

And this brings me to the second point that I found disappointing - the inconsistency of the writing. Sapphire wrote this in 1st person, so it is understandable to me that the writing style would mirror the speaking style of someone who is illiterate or just learning to read and write. I expect to see words spelled phonetically, slang, slews of misspellings and errors and incorrect grammar, etc. All of that is expected, and I think that initially, it added a reality to the story it would have lacked had it been written in more formal prose.

But the issue I had is that the writing didn't progress evenly with Precious's education. For instance, most of the book the word "mother" is misspelled as "muver", but early in the book, it's spelled correctly, and then again towards the end, and sprinkled throughout the book is "mutherfucker". Same sound, same word... three different spellings.

Words directly quoted are spelled and written perfectly, but the same words coming out of Precious's mouth are misspelled or slang, etc. I can see this being used to show the disconnect between Precious's situation and the situation of the person she's quoting (educated vs uneducated, etc), but it felt off to me, because this is Precious writing all of this in her book. I don't believe that SHE would have made that choice, or that she'd have even known she could, to write herself one way and other people another way. It seems to me that she would write what other people say the same way she writes what SHE says.

Another example is when she would write back and forth to her teacher, she would write, and her teacher would write the correct version underneath. Some words would be correctly spelled or used, and then almost immediately misspelled again. It was very inconsistent to me, and was distracting.

This book could be very powerful to some people. I can definitely agree with that. It was compelling and I could understand Precious's inner struggle and her will. I loved that. But I found the story to be a bit lacking in a very important aspect, and the writing style to not completely work.

I did really enjoy the final section, the school book section, with the girls' stories. That's some heartbreaking stuff there.

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  1. This is a book that I've really wanted to read, I'm sad to see that you didn't enjoy it as much as other people, but I can see a lot of valid points you made.
    I'm still going to try and read it.

  2. I was fairly torn about this book. I liked some things, didn't love others. But, I can definitely see where you are coming from in this review. Great job.

  3. I agree with you! I gave it 3 stars, mainly for its powerful impact. As for its literary merit, I just didn't think it was that good.

  4. Ashley and Jillian, thanks! :)

    S. Leighanne, I would suggest reading it, definitely. Even if you have the same issues (or more) with it that I did, it is still a book that will touch you and make you feel something.

    One thing I will say about it is that it never comes off feeling gimmicky or trite or emotionally manipulative. Precious is brutally honest with herself at least. I really did love that.

    If you read this, I will be very interested to see what you think. :)