Push : a novel

by Sapphire,

Paper Book, 1997


An electrifying first novel that shocks by its language, its circumstances, and its brutal honesty, Push recounts a young black street-girl's horrendous and redemptive journey through a Harlem inferno. For Precious Jones, 16 and pregnant with her father's child, miraculous hope appears and the world begins to open up for her when a courageous, determined teacher bullies, cajoles, and inspires her to learn to read, to define her own feelings and set them down in a diary.



Call number



New York : Vintage contemporary edition., 1997.

Media reviews

What do you get if you borrow the notion of an idiosyncratic teen-age narrator from J. D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and mix it up with the feminist sentimentality and anger of Alice Walker's "Color Purple"? The answer is "Push," a much-talked-about first novel by a poet named Sapphire, a
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novel that manages to be disturbing, affecting and manipulative all at the same time.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
Precious Jones has suffered a life of horrible abuse and poverty until, sixteen and pregnant for the second time with her father's child, she is enrolled in a special school where she learns how to tell her own story through reading and writing and finds the courage to live her own life.

I was
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impressed by the way in which the author manages to make her protagonist's dialect-heavy, semi-literate voice not only readable but individual and strong. On other aspects of the book, my feelings were much more mixed. Different parts of my brain seemed have have widely differing attitudes towards it, which culminated in an odd sort of internal dialog. I think the best thing I can do as far as reviewing the book goes is to reproduce that dialog here. So:

BRAIN SEGMENT ONE: Oh, god, that poor kid! What horrible things to read about. But it is all pretty moving. When she started standing up for herself, I wanted to cheer! Also I really like the way the story recognizes the value of knowledge and learning and the importance of education to society. It was sort of heart-warming.

BRAIN SEGMENT TWO: The book definitely has some strengths. But, eh... Don't you think it's all a little overdone? The girl isn't just abused and poor. She's subject to every horror the author could think of, every worst-case consequence... It felt emotionally manipulative.

ONE: Oh, come on! You know that, horrible as it is to think about, there are plenty of real children who've suffered that much and worse. Isn't calling the bad stuff that happens in this book too much to believe kind of an insult to them?

TWO: Hey, do not try to guilt-trip me here! Of course I know that. But a work of literature, as we both know, has to do more than just describe things that really happen or say something socially important to be successful. It has to make the reader feel it, make them believe it. And I'm not sure this book is quite artful enough to pull that off completely.

ONE: I don't know. I think you may be letting your own biases about this particular kind of literature affect your judgment.

TWO: It's true, I generally tend to be leery of "inspirational" stories. In my mind, "inspirational" tends to equate to "over-earnest, over-sentimental, and over-simplistic." And the "troubled teenager turns life around with the loving attention of a good teacher" plot is definitely a subtype of those. Going in with that in my head may well mean that I kept myself a little too distanced from the story and failed to give it quite as much of a chance as it deserves.

ONE: Which makes me wonder why you decided to read the thing in the first place. I mean, you knew what it was about when you bought it. I don't think it's hype from the movie; you're not usually easily influenced by that sort of thing.

TWO: Yeah, I don't know, either. There was just something about the description that was weirdly compelling.

ONE: I think there's also something about the book that's compelling.

TWO: I don't know. Maybe.
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LibraryThing member DonnasBookAddiction
Thank goodness this novel was a short novel, What was the hardest for me was the absolute raw and brutal honesty with which the abuse was treated in this novel.

Precious attends school but is so far behind in her education, she literally becomes "invisible" as she sits in the classroom without
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moving from her seat all day and sometimes urinating on herself. The author's use of slang and the crude spelling of words and sentence structure allowed me the chance to identify with the level of intelligence Precious had. I hurt for Precious because she had no self-esteem. It was really marvelous to see the progress Precious makes thru her journal writing and the use of Ebonics decreased as Claireece Precious Jones’ education increased, she actually becomes "visible".

I could only empathize with Precious because one can see that her horrific mother and deplorable father have abused her through no fault of her own. I read in disbelief as her hopes and dreams are disturbed by her affliction to HIV/AIDS but with perseverance and determination Precious still finds courage to PUSH and fight for her life. However, it raises some excellent 'action points' about the state of "humanity" and the "system" (welfare, schools, etc). "Push" does not offer a storybook ending and you don't know what is going to happen to Precious after the book ends. Your left with a piece of Precious in your heart.

Even though I could not relate to this book I was still touched by it. This was a hard book to get through due to emotional and moral sensitivities but wanting to know how she was going to rise above her circumstances kept me reading. It's not something I'll read again and again...but it's something that I'll think about for a long time.
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LibraryThing member theokester
I honestly doubt I would have picked this novel up had it not been recommended to me or (as was the case) required as part of a class. While I enjoy "coming of age" stories and stories of overcoming hardship, the overarching themes and situations in this book are off-putting to say the least.

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professor made it very clear that the first chapter (~40 pages) was going to be very difficult to read for a number of reasons. Some students were put off by the spelling which was initially a little strange, but I have fun with "dialect" books with similar spelling or grammar issues, so this didn't bother me much. The vulgarity was definitely over the top and very harsh...it did make me cringe a bit, but I pushed through it.

What was the hardest for me, and likely for most readers, was the absolute raw and brutal honesty with which the abuse was treated in this novel. Since it's presented in the synopsis and the first few pages, I don't consider it a spoiler to tell you that this is the story of a teenage girl (ironically named "Precious") who has been raped by her father for the majority of her life (seriously...the 'majority' being since toddler-hood). She is now giving birth to her second child/sibling by her father. Her mother is physically, verbally and emotionally abusive as well. They live in a welfare situation where Precious is essentially a slave to her mother's whims.

The first chapter (and additional passages scattered throughout the book) are graphic, raw, and absolutely stunning. I came away from the reading disgusted at 'humanity.'

The writing style is in first person and thus is very closely tied to the main character. The language used is poetically and articulately placed on the page in such a way to make Precious a very vivid character who is very real. Despite her difficulties with language (despite starting the novel in 9th grade with passing grades, she is completely illiterate and likely hasn't learned anything in school ever), the text portrays her emotions and motivations beautifully. The descriptions of the world around her are striking and vivid as well.

This is very much NOT a book for children. The themes involved could be very eye-opening for teenagers, but because of their presentation and the vulgarity and graphic themes, I would not recommend this to young teens...and not even to older teens unless I felt they were sufficiently mature.

Honestly, I have a hard time even recommending this to most adults. There are some that I could confidently recommend it to (social workers, secondary education teachers, etc.). However, to the general population, I would be very nervous to recommend this book because it is so blunt and raw. At the same time, I can't "not" recommend it...or rather, if somebody (with adequate maturity/sensitivities) picked up the book and asked if it was worth reading, my answer is YES.

This is a hard book to get through due to emotional and moral sensitivities. However, it raises some excellent 'action points' to the reader to think about the state of "humanity" and the "system" (welfare, schools, etc).

It's not something I'll read again and again...but it's something that I'll think about for a long time.

4 stars
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
First, let me say that this book shouldn't be read by those who are offended by bad language. I mean really bad language, the kind that would cause my mother to fly halfway across the country to wash out my mouth with soap kind of bad. And it shouldn't be read by those who hate reading about awful,
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horrible situations that should never happen to anyone, things like a twelve-year old raped by her father and having a baby she calls Mongo, short for Mongoloid. Or those who can't stand for a young narrator to speak explicitly of sex, in down and low street terms.

Given those disclaimers, I thought this was a fabulous book. It's short at 140 pages and a few additional “life story” pages at the end. What a story it packs onto those few pages! You can't help but cheer for Precious, the overweight, pregnant girl who wants to be skinny and lighter so she would be loved. Her life never becomes easy, but she keeps fighting to make it better. She got good grades in school even though she was illiterate because she just stayed in the back of the room and kept quiet. But now, after being kicked out of school because of her second pregnancy by her father, she learns of an alternative school, and really wants to learn. She is a natural poet and is encouraged by a teacher who can see her potential.

I don't know what the movie, Precious, based on this book will be like, but Sapphire has written a tough and beautiful story that I will remember for a long time.
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LibraryThing member silversurfer
A roller coaster ride of drama and emotion. A literary masterpiece. Not an easy to read narrative, but worth it. I remember after turning the last page, I was wondring if I would ever read anything this honest and profound again. The sorrow, the heartbreak, the defiance between the pages of this
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book make it a revelation. A once in a lifetime read. Ranks right up there with THE COLOR PURPLE.
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LibraryThing member Cobra1
Raw, raw, raw,....don't read this if you don't like to read ugly truths of abuse of a child. It is a story in the child's own words of the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father and mother.

But she rises above all that horror, and somewhere in her heart, she believes she is worthy of love and
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life without such abuses. She pushes to make sure she lives a better life than the one she was born into by understanding that education is what will lead her out of her current situation and doesn't quit despite her mother's insistence that she isn't smart enough (or good enough) to learn.
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LibraryThing member Koralis
I read Push when I was in the 9th grade and reading it a second time still didn’t change my view on how awesome this book was. It deals with child abuse so if that’s a trigger for you then I suggest you don’t read. My review may contain some spoilers.

The story is about a girl named Precious
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that is failed by the system. She is 16 years old, still in middle school, has a 4 year old daughter, pregnant again, abused by her mother, raped by her father (who is the father of her children), she is poor, illiterate, and HIV positive.

Precious is still a child herself yet she has to overcome all of this and try her best to push forward with the cards that life has given her. I couldn't imagine dealing with all of these things at the age of 16 and to me that made Precious strong.

The only reason why I didn't give it a full 5 stars is because I had a hard time believing that the schools truly didn't care. Growing up in Queens, NY I understand that the public school system isn't great, but Precious was purposely urinating on herself, she wasn't speaking, and she would come to school with semen stains on her shirt. Did anyone not report this? Things like this are supposed to get reported. Also she gave birth at 12 years old... why weren't the police called?
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LibraryThing member LynnSigman
Disturbing. That's all I could think of as I read this book. Written as fiction, I could believe it could have happened for real. And while it was hard to read - there is a slight glimmer of hope for the main character, Precious. Still don't know if I want to see the movie or not...
LibraryThing member MCocuzzo2
This is a super hard book for me to review....
First of all, it has every trigger warning you could imagine... Rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, incest, racism, homophobia, murder, self harm, suicidal thoughts, drug use, graphic violence, shame over body image... And the list goes on.
This was
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some serious Misery Porn. And by that I mean everything bad that could happen pretty much did. Things are looking up? Kick you in the gut again. Does the book have a hopeful ending? Yes, but wrought with anxiety for the future. This book does not let up.
It's hard to imagine that people like Precious exist, and yet they do. People who have been abused, raped, had their childhoods taken from them... whose families, schools, communities, and government fail them... who struggle, often in vain, to find a glimmer of love and hope. People who grapple with terrible, traumatic memories that overtake their mind and leave them disconnected from the world. And the fact of the matter is, a disproportionate amount of these people are Black. The system is against them. We need to change it.
This book was so gut wrenching. I rooted so hard for Precious, and I did like seeing her learn and grow. But holy moly was it rough.
**This is a book to consider for those who wish to diversify their reading list, with the caveat of doing so at your own discretion due to its graphic content**
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LibraryThing member keristars
This is a very disturbing novel that nearly gave me nightmares. It has some seriously tough themes - child abuse and rape being way up there at the top.

I can't say that it wasn't worth reading. I don't know, but I don't regret reading it, I guess? But it's pretty dark and definitely pushes the
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boundaries of what's 'comfortable.' I kept wanting everything to get better in the book, and meanwhile dreaded turning the page because I was sure that everything would fall into a further level of hell or something.

It's a good book and well written. Very vivid and I think the characters are well done. But it's not a book for me.
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LibraryThing member kelawrence
I never saw the movie, but what a book . . . just gives you a sinking feeling inside because you know this kind of thing happens every day and people just turn a blind eye. But also wants to make you cheer for Precious and her bravery and perseverance.
LibraryThing member emma_mc
Heartbreaking. Almost torturous to read what poor Precious has been through and the injustice of life.
LibraryThing member sharlene_w
Push talks about a subject that needs to be talked about more. It is a painful story, but one that is repeated thousands of times across our country every day. Bravo to the author for giving every abused daughter a voice. Hopefully they can all be heard and strengthened by those who were willing to
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listen and believe.
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LibraryThing member Jackie.the.Librarian
Everyone keeps saying how raw this book is - and it absolutely is. It's hard to read without cringing and I actually put it down for a couple nights only to agonize over what would happen to Precious. It was so emotionally wrenching that I almost wanted to hate it - but couldn't in the end. For a
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short read, it packs a powerful punch.
My only (minor) criticism is that I wished there was a little more content. The writings of Precious and her classmates at the end of the book were so compelling, I would have enjoyed more of them - perhaps interspersed throughout the novel instead of piled on at the end as an afterthought.
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LibraryThing member poetontheone
I saw the film which is based upon this novel long before reading it, and the film has been praised as an unflinching portrayal of human struggle and also decried as a fetishization of "black pathology." Sapphire's novel at least seems to avoid Hollywood's pitfalls of dimensionless sensationalism
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and saccharine redemption. This is a novel about a young black girl who is poor, illiterate, overweight, and victimized by incestuous rape resultant in multiple pregnancies. Many critics argue that such a barrage of horrible circumstances is unrealistic, though to say so is deny that many young women of color do indeed face these very circumstances. Perhaps that is simply too shameful a thing to admit to ourselves. The key to this novle is what Sapphire does with language, the language grows as the character grows and evokes for her and for us new dimensions of understanding about her story. If we looked at Precious and not through Precious this book would be a masturbatory exercise in pity and black woe that white audiences could weep to with abandon. Sapphire's storytelling rightfully denies that. This book evokes empathy, not pity, and that is an important distinction.
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LibraryThing member cms519
Push is the most intense book I have ever read.

Precious Clareece Jones is a 16 year old junior high school student, pregnant with her second child, by her own father. While the descriptions of ths abuse are graphic and painful to read, they only illuminate how incredible the character, Precious,
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LibraryThing member lrothmier
Very hard to read because it described the multiple abuses so graphically but I wasn't able to put it down. The story was compelling, Precious was a believable character with an amazing amount of obstacles to overcome, and the story provides hope. As a teacher, I found it to give me a new
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perspective on children with behavior problems and I know I will now have more empathy, sympathy, and patience with those children.
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LibraryThing member omame
An absolutely staggering book.

There is so much to be said about Push, but the thing that I love most about it is the voice that Sapphire gives Precious Jones. It is possibly one of the most organic voices that I have encountered in fiction. This incredible voice makes being 16, illiterate and
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pregnant for the second time with her father's baby something that i can feel, if not ever relate to. It is a book that made the pages feel more like reality than the reality happening around me.
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LibraryThing member ovistine
From the description and some of the reviews I've read, this book seems like a modern retelling of "The Color Purple". But describing it that way isn't fair to the book and its story. While it's got some similarities, "Push" is a modern story about a girl who starts out at less than zero --
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illiterate, sexually abused by both parents starting before she's even weaned, no idea what's in the world or what kind of resources she can look toward -- and finds hope with a teacher and a group of classmates who are working toward surviving similar circumstances.
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LibraryThing member jenniferthomp75
Haunting and thought-provoking, Sapphire's novel is one not to be missed. Precious is a New York City teenager who has been through enough trama and tragedy to last a life time. When she is kicked out of school for being pregnant with her second child, she finds hope in the form of an alternative
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school with a caring teacher.

This book will stay with me forever. Precious' story is unique, disturbing, heartfelt and honest. I highly recommend this book to everybody.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
I cried for thirty minutes after reading this book. I will NEVER forget this story or Claireece the main character. I could not imagine any child having to live like this...a must read but I can't read it again....
LibraryThing member ahgonzales
Short and sweet. Very intense things going on in a very short amount of time. The writing develops with the development of the main character, Precious. I can definitely see authors poetry background showing though the writing. Interesting quick read.
LibraryThing member 59Square
Precious is 16 years old, and pregnant with her second child, both fathered by her father. Despite horrifying circumstances, she is desperate to learn and finds her voice and hope at an alternative high school.

This book was the first "urban fiction" book I had ever read, and probably still one of
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the best. Precious is a fighter and watching her learn to express herself and find the proper outlets for her rage and pain is facinating. However, this book is not for the faint of heart. Precious is unflinching in describing her circumstances, and uses the rough language she is most familiar with. A highly praised film adaptation is coming out soon, I hope it lives up to it's source material.
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
Grudgingly writing in a journal for a school project, Claireece Precious Jones recounts her difficult life in 1980s Harlem before entering the Each One Teach One program: being held back in school twice; suffering her father raping her; two pregnancies, the first producing Little Mongo who has Down
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Syndrome and stays hidden from her at her Grandmother's; an violently abusive mother. But as each page passes, Precious learns and grows. Thanks to her new teacher Blue Rain she learns words and how to read them and to put them down on paper; she gains the confidence, thanks to fellow classmates, to break away from her mother, to begin a new life. She gains a new confidence in herself and fights against a society that classifies her as invisible to create a place for herself and her children.

I hadn't heard of "Push" by Sapphire until the movie trailer began making its way onto TV screens. And, though I still haven't seen the movie (yet), the brief snippets with Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe enticed me into buying a copy of the book. (I also admit to wanting to prep myself for what would be shown on-screen; Mo'Nique's performance looked pretty intense.)

The novel is written in Precious' point of view, using her language skills as a sixteen-year-old girl, very bright but who knows neither how to read nor write, to tell what comes across at first as a heart-breaking tale. She's more of a servant than a daughter to her heifer of a mother; her father's raped her twice, and yet her mother blames Precious for "stealing" her husband. The words come across very blunt, without anything to soften the blows, so as a reader, I never felt talked down to and could quickly empathize with Precious and cheer her on as she at first sees a glimmer at the end of the tunnel and begins her journey toward it. Even when obstacles are dropped into her path, she never falters but finds a way to surmount them. I think that's what I liked most about the book: it seems filled with hope that even though bad things may be happening all around you, you can find your way to something better.

"Push" tells a remarkable story about a remarkable young woman, and it's definitely worth everyone's time to read.
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LibraryThing member lsh63
I decided to read this book in anticipation of the movie which is going to be released in about two weeks or so. I knew that this was "urban lit" and I thought that I was prepared for this very graphic, disturbing, but very thought provoking account of young Charreice (Precious) Jones's horrific
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life. It made me want to cry on several occasions the realism is that strong. This book is very well written but definitely not for the faint of heart. Several co-workers have told me that they just couldn't finish the book because it was that heartbreaking. I remained drawn to the story because it offers some glimmer of hope and strength in the midst of unspeakable acts of cruelty and abuse.
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Original publication date



0679766758 / 9780679766759
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