Claireece Precious Jones endures unimaginable hardships in her young life. Abused by her mother, raped by her father, she grows up poor, angry, illiterate, fat, unloved and generally unnoticed. So what better way to learn about her than through her own, halting dialect. That is the device deployed in the first novel by poet and singer Sapphire. “Sometimes I wish I was not alive,” Precious says. “But I don’t know how to die. Ain’ no plug to pull out. ‘N no matter how bad I feel my heart don’t stop beating and my eyes open in the morning.” An intense story of adversity and the mechanisms to cope with it.
For this sensitive reader, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I actually needed a day before I could review this book because my mind was so filled with negative images and disturbing thoughts. This book was the first audiobook I listened to while I drove to North Carolina for the long weekend we just had. I finished listening last night on a long walk. While I must admit, the narrator’s voice is probably the perfect one cast to read this story, the story itself was so horrific and disturbing that I’ve let my mind go on vacation since finishing.
Am I overreacting? Doubtful. Those who have read this story probably agree with what I’m saying. I find it hard to believe the movie captures as much as the book mentions and after watching an interview with the author, I’m certain of it. Those who haven’t read this story, allow me to tell you why I do NOT recommend it.
Very gritty, vulgar, and graphic, Precious is a story about an overweight, young, black woman who is raped by her father, has two children by him, gets AIDS from him, is abused by her mother both physically and sexually (not to mention emotionally), is illiterate and kicked out of school after having baby number 2 at 16. The story itself is bothersome and coupled with the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it that much more traumatizing.
What I didn’t know while listening to the audiobook is that Precious (based on the novel Push and later renamed to match the major motion picture’s title) is based on stories of several students Sapphire (the author) had while teaching in Harlem in the ’80s. I assumed (and this is always a dangerous thing to do) that this was literally an autobiography; this woman telling her painful story as a means to healing. Not the case. Yes, there was a woman in Sapphire’s class that had two children by her father. But she was articulate, slim, and blonde. Yes, there were students who were abused by their mothers and HIV positive. But I’m not finding any definite answers to that this ALL happened to one child.
Based on that knowledge, that Precious is a work of “fiction” based on many different students, I wonder what that says about Sapphire’s imagination? This story could have been told without HALF of the language, graphic detail, and vulgarity that it used. The point will still come across and will still horrify the reader. Why, then, is it necessary to write in the worst way? Even if a child is illiterate, does that mean she still cannot speak properly? Ok, maybe not. But the text in this book is unlike any I’ve ever come across.
It was a struggle to get through, and it’s a short 5 hour audiobook. However, the scenes are SO intense and ugly, that while driving down the road I found it hard to get past 20 minutes of listening before I turned it off to listen to something else. In fact I almost didn’t finish. Thanks to the encouragement of LibraryLove, who has already listened to the book AND seen the movie, I pushed through. I don’t know that it was worth finishing for me. Where is Precious now? What happened to her children? Did she keep them? Did they go to foster homes or get adopted? Are they all still alive? Why didn’t her dad go to jail after she had her first baby by him when she was 12? Who did nurses, doctors, and social workers think the father was? And if they knew it was her father, why no action?
To read/listen to these horrific things happening to ANYONE is traumatic. But to read about a three year old girl being raped, well that’s something that literally I lost sleep over. I found myself praying in earnest for these children, their families, and those they encounter. How could this happen to anybody? What kind of sick person can steal a childhood, destroy it with lifelong consequences, and never be punished? And what happened in her father’s life that would cause and enable him to treat his own offspring this way? What a sad, sad world…
Though the narrator in the audiobook did fantastic at the reading, I am not impressed with the story telling in the book. After learning, this is not one woman’s story, rather a compilation, it is a work of fiction. (Though how tragic to know that there are probably men and women out there who HAVE gone through all of this in one lifetime…) But my biggest issue comes from the vulgarity and language. I don’t think it’s necessary or prudent to the topic. And it made it VERY challenging to listen to.
That being said, I am proud of myself for stepping so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to continue. I’m still disturbed by the things I heard in this book and I have no desire to see the movie. I think Sapphire overused her methods and went too far overboard with the graphic detail. If you want, watch the interview with the author and Katie Couric. As for me, I’m done with this book. Unfortunately I cannot recommend this book. I am too troubled by it to do so. Yes, I am a sensitive reader, but I think we can do things in our world to make a difference without exposing ourselves to the graphic details. We know people are abused. We know children are raped. It’s a terrible, terrible truth to the world we live in. Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away. Let’s try to do something about it in our own neighborhoods and may it continue to spread. Spend some time volunteering and loving others more than yourselves. May we remember to show kindness every day that we are here. Let us be the change we wish to see in the world.
I’m not sure how to rate this book. While I feel the narrator did fantastic, I did not enjoy the story itself or the way it was told. Rather than give it a poor rating (these things do happen in our world so how can you say someone’s story is bad?), with the knowledge that this is considered a work of fiction, I will not rate this book.