Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Follow-up to 'Push' provokes, disappoints

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM

  • Title: The Kid
  • Published by: The Penguin Press
  • Written by: Sapphire

At the end of Push, the heartbreaking 1996 novel that introduced the character of Precious, baby Abdul represents a glimmer of hope amid the grim landscape of the main character's troubled life.

"When the sun shine on him like this, he is an angel child. Brown sunshine," the HIV-positive Precious muses as she holds her son and wonders how much time she will have with him.

In The Kid, author Sapphire picks up Abdul's story about nine years later. His mother has just died, leaving the young boy confused, angry and alone - a state that will shroud him throughout the novel.

Abdul is quickly thrust into the dark, often cruel, labyrinth of the child-welfare system, landing first in a chaotic and violent foster home, then in a Catholic boys' orphanage where he is promised refuge but is instead subjected to sexual abuse masquerading as love.

Through a first-person narrative that floats among dream, memory and reality, Abdul - known alternately as J.J., Jamal, Arthur and Crazy Horse - describes his harrowing journey through childhood and his search for identity and salvation.

"I don't get it, no matter how I try, how could a kid be normal? Normal!" Abdul cries after being tossed out of the Catholic school and sent to live with a decrepit stranger who turns out to be his great-grandmother. "How could I end up tossed salad? Thirteen?"

Along the way, Abdul pieces together bits of his disturbing family history (much of which should already be familiar to the readers of Push and anyone who saw Precious, the acclaimed film adaptation of that novel). He also emerges as both victim and victimiser, preying on small boys in the orphanage just as the priests preyed on him, and later attacking men who pick him up for anonymous sex.

Grim story

If this seems grim, it is. Abdul's world is filled with dysfunction, violence, sexual predators and pain. Unlike Push, where Precious finds safe harbour with a caring teacher, there are no saviours in The Kid.

Even Abdul's one bit of joy - the talent he discovers as a dancer - comes tangled in deception and exploitation.

"My body is not a stranger," he thinks during a dance class. "Here my body is my own, here I am a Crazy Horse dude who never gave up. ... Here in the beat is my life."

In Push, Sapphire deftly inhabited the mind of Precious, an illiterate 16-year-old girl who had been raped repeatedly by her father (giving birth to two of his children) and brutally abused by her sadistic mother. There, the stream-of-consciousness technique brilliantly captured the protagonist's transformation. But, in The Kid, that technique muddles the story.