I don’t know what “realism” mean but I do know what REALITY is and it’s a mutherfucker, lemme tell you.
Claireece Precious Jones – Precious to her friends, Claireece to ‘mutherfuckers I hate’ – 16-years-old, five feet nine or ten, two hundred pounds, is pregnant for the second time to her father.
When she refuses a parent-teacher conference with Mrs Lichenstein, she’s suspended from school. But Mrs Lichenstein does visit and via the intercom tells Precious she’s organised a place for her at Each One Teach One, located on the nineteenth floor of a local hotel. When Precious arrives and takes the test to determine which class she should join, it soon becomes clear she’s illiterate.
The tesses paint a picture of me wiv no brain. The tesses paint a picture of me ‘an my muver – my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible…
I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, I watch TV, do what my muver says. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. Don’t nobody want me. Don’t nobody need me. I know who I am. I know who they say I am – vampire sucking the system’s blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for.
Precious tells the story of her time attending the group intertwined with that of her family situation. Sexually abused by both of her parents, her mother also beats her and accuses her of stealing her husband. Since the birth of Little Mongo, Precious’ oldest child (so named because she has Down Syndrome), Precious’ mother hasn’t left the house. She expects Precious to wait on her as she claims benefits for the child who actually lives with Precious’ grandmother.
At Each One Teach One, Precious learns to write and she also finds the courage to begin fighting for the life she wants.
Push could be an unbearable read: every time you think it couldn’t get any darker, it does, but it’s balanced by Precious’ determination. This is supported by Precious’ voice which is pitch perfect and seems authentic. Sapphire’s done an incredible job not only of capturing Precious’ voice but of including her early attempts at writing as she learns the alphabet and begins to exchange words with Ms Rain, her teacher. She’s so well drawn that at times I wanted to bring her home with me and look after her; at others, I stood on the sidelines cheering her on. If you were to tell me she doesn’t exist, I’m not sure I’d believe you.
Push is a compelling story of one hell of a life, detailing the incredibly shitty deal some people are handed through no fault of their own. It also demonstrates the power of education and the enormous difference one person who cares and has access to structures can make to another. This isn’t a book you can enjoy but it is one that grips, I devoured it in one sad but hopeful gulp.