Precious – Sapphire

I am one of those people who likes to read a book before I see the film and so with a planned visit to the cinema to see ‘Precious’ this weekend I thought that I would read the book, originally titled ‘Push’, by Sapphire. I didn’t really know what to make of it, if you have seen the trailer then you will get some idea, it looks like it could be quite a harrowing movie (though one already to wipe the Oscars clean this year) and therefore you would think it might be fairly harrowing read. The thing with harrowing or tragic tales is that they can also hold infinite hope inside them.

“I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby by my favher. That was 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in second grade too, when I was seven, ‘cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can get gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.”

From the very first paragraph we are taken straight into the world of Precious Jones and truth be told its not a world for the faint hearted. Pregnant for the second time by her own father Precious has grown up illiterate in the back streets of Harlem where the only thing she wants is an education which will bring freedom and opportunity. She lives with her abusive mother who is living off the money she receives for having her daughter and granddaughter living in the house, though in truth Precious’s disabled daughter has been shipped off to her grandmothers while her mother claims the extra money.

As we join Precious she is reflecting on her life and how she came to be in the position she is in and as you come to know her back story it not only makes you sad it also makes you quite angry. Precious is soon kicked out of high school under the pretext of simply ‘being pregnant’. However a teacher takes sympathy on her and has booked her on an alternative education course Each One Teach One. This is, Precious knows, probably the last chance she has of an education along with the likes of Rhoda, Jermaine and Rita (all with dark and unfortunate pasts) but with a second baby due, a mother who doesn’t want her to do anything but be a slave and a means of benefits is Precious really ever going to change her life?

I thought, though in parts it made me angry, that this is one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. It brings home the lives that some people live in modern times who could really be in the same city as we are and we just don’t notice. Though the book is set in the 1980’s this is still going on and actually shows how rather worryingly in some ways things haven’t moved on as much as we might hope. Precious is a remarkable character and a sign of hope in dark times, as are all the girls in her class at Each One Teach One and her teacher Blue Rain, having humour when most of us would give up. Though fictional this book packs a huge punch as you know that these things are really going on out there. We need books like this and people need to read them, especially when they are written with such a blunt (the language is quite out there as are some of the scenes described), compelling, honest, emotional and occasionally funny voice.   

I was utterly blown away by this book, I am not sure how I will be able to handle the movie, it left me speechless and with a huge amount to think about for such a small book. Books like this show just why reading shouldn’t always be a safe and comfortable experience, sometimes we need harder stories like this. Its remarkable, not an easy read but most certainly a must read.


Filed under Books of 2010, Books To Film, Review, Sapphire, Vintage Books

54 responses to “Precious – Sapphire

  1. Wow. This sounds incredible – I really love books that open your eyes like this. I’m going to seek it out at the library.

  2. That does sound harrowing. I’ve heard good reviews about the film. I think I’ll skip the book for this one and go straight to the movie.

  3. mee

    Aaw I missed the invitation to Precious advanced screening yesterday. I didn’t know this was taken from a book. I’m glad to know the book is good, but I’m not sure if I want to read it. I really really want to watch it though.

    • Ooh I wish I had been invoted to an advance screening, mind you I would have had to read the book in a hurry and its one that should be read in no rush, though actually I couldnt put it down. I hope the film is as good as the book, well not good but you know what I mean.

  4. I’ve been reading a lot about both the book and the film, and it’s definitely on my TBR. Thanks for the review Simon, it sounds astonishing.

  5. I’ve heard quite a bit about the film due for release but didn’t realise it was a book, thanx for the review, might have to wait till I’m feeling brave to read this one.

    • Honestly Jessica don’t hold out on this book as you feel you need to be brave for it. It is challenging and it is in parts difficult and heartbreaking but its also just astounding, dont miss out.

  6. This has been on my radar for some time and I’ve toyed with reading the book since seeing it in the Bloomsbury catalogue last year but I think I’ll watch the film.

    • Are you thinking of this book as its published by Vintage? I think Bloomsbury has a true story of a different Precious coming out this year (which I also really, really want to read.

      I think people who read the film might miss something if they dont read the book it was such an experience. I could be wrong. I will know more after tomorrow night!

      • Ah, different Precious.

        I’d like to read it, Simon, but too many books…

        I see it’s short. Could I borrow your copy at some point seeing as you’re rating it so highly?

      • Yeah the Precious think flummoxed me as I saw this gorgeous Pink cover and as I dont like film covers on books wanted to use that image instead and it wasnt actually the same book!!! Random.

        You most definitley can borrow this book, you might just have to wait two borrows down as I have been banging on about this book off the blog for a while. One of the readers (who is nose in it at the mo) is none other than The Converted One so I must have been raving!

      • Thanks! No rush, you can give it to me at book group once people have finished reading it. So glad the Converted One is giving it a go!
        You sold me and I shall hold off seeing the film.

      • Will see if can get it to you for next book group on Thurs as you might have to hold until March otherwise!

  7. I’ve been trying to get over my squeamishness, either to read the book or see the movie. Not sure I’m quite there yet, but I’ll definitely keep your endorsement in mind.

    • Oh come on people toughen up hahahaha. I do find it intriguing that people will possibly miss a wonderful book as its uncomfortable… that could be a whole post in itself!!

      If you dont read the book (which you should) then do see the film I think it will be as good… just.

  8. Whew, I must admit that I’m one of the wimpy folk here. Nervous to read this but I think I have to now!
    I do get distracted by tone-setting spelling mistakes though (think Flowers to Algernon). How did you get along with that?

    • I can be a wimp to but this year really want to challange myself on the reaidng scale and this did push my boundaries of reading in terms of some of the subject matter brought up in the book.

      The tone setting spelling mistakes were noticeable at first and then I just got so engrossed in the book (like Flowers of Algernon as you mention) and it didnt bother me. Its a brilliant book.

  9. Hah, Flowers to Algernon, Flowers of Algernon, Flowers for Algernon? That’s the one.

  10. novelinsights

    This sounds fantastic. I’ve spotted the posters for the movie on the tube. I doubt I’ll catch it at the cinema so that gives me a bit of time to read the book!

    • Its a great book Polly and though short is just so full, it amazes me when authors somehow do this. I think am seeing it tomorrow when you are packing for Venice so am not feeling too sorry for you hahaha.

  11. I knew this book would not be an easy read, but sometimes we just need to dig in and deal with it. At some point, I’d like to do the Read the Book/See the Movie with this one.

    • I love that, can I pinch that phrase of ‘dig in and deal with it’ please? Its definitley one I want to coin. I think read the book see the movie would be perfect with this book.

  12. The welfare money thing – it’s still happening here. And all the stories are just horrible.

    I heard of a student being pressured by her OWN mother to start getting preggers at age 15 so that the money can start coming in. The poor student wanted to go to college. I don’t know what happened to her. I hope she was able to escape the mother from H#ll.

    A neighbor’s grandson, who is mentally retarded and gets government benefits because he can’t hold a job, became a father. The grandmother was so angry at the girl, because she knew that the girl did it on purpose to get both the grandson’s check and the baby’s check. The girl never married my neighbor’s grandson, got bored with him, and left him after a year.

    The neighbor had to work hard to get the grandson’s check back to him. The girl STILL wanted the money. What a hussy.

    • Blimey its shocking when even though you suspect things like this are happening to know they are. But it also just goes to show exactly why we need books like this as though maybe not the most comfortable of reads it makes you think about whats going on outside your own little bookish world I guess.

  13. This sounds like one of those books that I know I have to read – even though I don’t want to. It isn’t that I want to close my eyes to what is going on in society, but my stomach just cannot take the injustice.

    I will probably not see the movie, as the visual portrayal would simply be too much for me, but the book is definitely going on my TBR list.

    Thanks, Simon, for bringing this important social issue to our attention – and conscience.

    • I hadnt thought of it from the point of view that seeing it might be harder than reading it. I guess with a book you can put it down. With a film it just there in front of you confronting you.

      Don’t thank me thank the book that really brought it to my attention, its an incredible read.

  14. Lu

    I really loved this when I read it a couple months ago. It’s just harrowing. I completely agree that it is hopeful, even for all its bleakness. Precious is one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time.

    • Precious is an amazing character indeed. Its harrowing and yet hopeful, think people seem a bit concerned about this one so thank goodness I didnt tell them the harrowing twist!

  15. I got an invite to an advanced screening but it was a morning midweek… pity I had to go to work!

    Not sure if it is still available on BBC iplayer, but on News Night Review on Friday they talked about this film and interviewed the director. It was all part of an extended episode about Obama’s first year in office. Worth checking out.

    • Oh am most jealous I would have loved to have seen this in advance, but would have been on my own and think therefore I would have been slightly traumatised after with no one to talk about it too.

      I started watching the review show but the dreadful theme music was making Kirsty shout and so I turned it off.

  16. Gosh, I have heard NOTHING but good about this book! Really need to read it. I admit I was initially turned off by the author’s name (really? Sapphire and no last name?) but I think I should overcome that and just READ and be amazed.

    • I don’t know why Sapphire has just one name, maybe its to do with the poetry she writes too… or maybe its just a pen name, or she is simply just known as Sapphire, which ever reason she is an incredible writer so do give her a go.

      I have never thought about if an authors name puts me off a book before, thats given me food for thought Aarti.

  17. farmlanebooks

    I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while, but haven’t got round to getting a copy yet. I’m really pleased to hear that you loved it. Hopefully I’ll get a copy soon.

  18. Sounds like a very thought-provoking book. I’m not sure I’ll want to read it now, but I’m putting it on my list of books to look out for.

    Good luck with the movie. With a book like that, it looks like you’re in for a rough ride..

    • Do give this book some serious consideration if you see it be it at the library or in the book store as its just a marvellous book and one I know I will be thinking about for weeks!

  19. Greetings, Simon. I arrived at your blog by way of Mee’s book blog.

    A few months ago (or longer?) I read about this movie/book in The NY Times. I was intrigued, but also a bit wary. But you’re right, this is an important story, and also a hopeful story, and one definitely worth watching or reading (I usually read the book first, too). Thanks for an insightful review.

  20. I read this book years ago while in high school and it hasn’t left me yet. I agree that this is a book more people should read.

    Have you read Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina? It affected me the same way Push did.

    • I had never heard of Dorothy Allison until you mentioned her just now so I have missed this book completely, I shall pop and have a gander on a certain online site shortly and see if its for the wishlist.

  21. This one I’ve been wondering…because I have a feeling that I might be squeamish. I would have to defer away watching the film until I have finished reading the novel.

  22. I read the first chapter of this book through DailyLit once, and got really hooked. Like you said, it is really harrowing, and I felt both sad and angry at the same time. Even though I read only the first chapter, I still felt that it was written really well, since Precious’ illiteracy is so easily felt. And if I remember rightly, she is just 12 years old, right?

    • Have you ever read the chapters after the first as if not you simply must. I think its an amazing book and am in a strange way quite shocked by the fact that daily lit did it!!!

      She is twelve when she has her first child, she is older as the book is told from around 14 onwards.

      • I didn’t read the next few chapters, because it was part of a DailyLit teaser-type of thing, where only first chapters are shared. But I headed to the library today and guess what, got a copy of the book. 🙂 I should be reading it soon!

        And yeah, you are right! She was 12 when she had her first child. Monstrous, really!

      • Hoorah am so pleased you can now read the whole thing, thats brill. I didnt realise Daily Lit were such teasers, it works though it would seem.

  23. I have a friend who works in the charity sector with kids just like this, and another who teaches. and I find I’m cynical about the book and the film – far more than they are – the reality of life for some young people, living not just in the same cities but on the same streets as the rest of us, is one of no hope and no chance of pulling themselves out of the pit despite the best efforts of others to help. I will go and see this film and hope that it raises more awareness of whats going on all around us.

    • Hayley I do think that this book (and hopefully the film) does just this its not a book fileld with happy endings but about remarkable characters that face some utterly awful things and actually some dont pull through. What I loved about this book was it wasnt glamourizing anything or making fun from it, it was real and I think that was one of this books main strengths.

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