Monday, 16 September 2013

Devouring Books: The Kid by Sapphire

Remember when that film Precious came out and it got nominated for loads of Oscars and was totally critically acclaimed and I watched it and cried all over my face and was fairly grateful I'd watched it alone?* Well, that film was based on a book- Push by Sapphire (which I also read around the same time) and The Kid is the sequel to that book/the film. I'm glad we got that sorted and also can you tell that I'm stalling here because I sort of don't want to talk about this book so much? Because that's what's really going on here.

Ok, so. I really liked Push- it's written in a really interesting way, to show Precious's growing literacy and empowerment and all sorts of things like that, and above all, it leaves you with a sense of hope- that, even if bad things happen to you, even if some of the WORST things happen to you, you're still allowed to do everything you can to rise above all of those bad things (to Push your way out of them, if you will). So, it's horrible but there's kind of a purpose to the horror, and it at least doesn't leave you feeling like you want to die (or at least not so much...)

The Kid, on the other hand, starts with Precious's death (oh yeah) and goes rapidly downhill from there. Before I even start, I really have to emphasise how upsetting Precious's death is- all you want when you read Push is for her (and her child, Abdul, the kid of the title) to be ok, to escape the ridiculously horrible circumstances of her upbringing and live a long happy life. She dies when she's 27, so yeah. It's horrible. What's really clear from the outset is that she's raised an intelligent, curious, fairly sweet nine-year-old boy, and even though she's dead before the book even begins, her influence is clear in him, at least to begin with.

So it's all... Not good, but at least bearable, until Abdul gets taken into care and everything turns to shit. At every single facility charged with his care, he's failed by all authority figures, he gets beaten, raped, all the possible bad things, and he spends his first years of puberty being raised by Catholic priests who very much conform to the popular image of Catholic priests these days (child rapists, that is). And it's SO horrible, and there's a whole thing about how he's being redeemed by dance, but I was still trying not to throw up after his great grandma explained her rape as a 10 year old so I kind of missed that bit.

Here's the thing about this book, though. While with Push I very much felt emotionally connected to Precious, and while there were bits that were shocking, they had a purpose- showing the things that Precious has to overcome to become who she wants to be, with The Kid... it was really difficult to feel connected to Abdul because of the things that he does. The whole theory behind this book is that abuse begets abuse, I think, but when that means that Abdul rapes a child because he thinks that's the only way to show his love... I just don't know what to do with that. Because he's smart, and he knows what he's doing, and I just... That is SO not what Precious would have wanted him to become, and it kind of hurts to read.

But it more than hurts to read, it's gross, and to very little purpose, it seems. There's no situation I can imagine where a great-grandma would tell her great-grandson about the time she was raped (in detail) and, I mean, does Abdul have to be raped in every situation of care he's in? Is that really that likely? I mean, stop me if I'm being truly naive about the care situation in New York City, but it has to be better than that, surely? And yes, I understand it's for, you know, dramatic emphasis, but does that mean it has to be so graphic and horrible and just... hopeless? Are difficult situations only escapable for a tiny amount of time before you have to return to them? Am I ever going to stop asking questions?

Basically, I don't even know how I made it to the end of this book, and I have a feeling I only finished it to go 'DON'T read this, but you can definitely read Push, or, at least just watch Precious.' Because Precious had a lot of the same things to say, but did it in a more concise, less horribly disturbing and much less hopeless way, and The Kid was just not a pleasant experience in any way. Which I realise it wasn't supposed to be, but that didn't make it any better to read.


*You definitely don't remember my part in this, because it was pre-blog. Otherwise, I would have had to write a post immediately, going ZOMG EMOTIONS.

13 comments:

  1. Yeah, you've basically confirmed my feelings about this book based on what I read about it when it came out. My store didn't sell a single copy of it.

    Maybe we should start a club called Naives Anonymous, because like you, I'm a little skeptical with the law of averages for child rape as portrayed in books like this. Reminded me a bit of reading The Shipping News, which wasn't nearly as distubring as The Kid sounds, with one exception: the entire province of Nova Scotia or Newfoundland or whatever province it was set it seemed to condone incest and child rape. I mean, really? Nobody is upset or surprised when it happens, and it happens a lot in that book.

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    1. Not a SINGLE copy? Daaaaaamn...

      I will happily be a part of that club, because while I fully believe that it's possible for the system to fail you at every turn, I refuse to believe that every turn would also involve child rape. I just don't believe it. Nope.

      Also- I feel REALLY stupid now because I've read The Shipping News and I remember nothing about rape or incest! I feel like I came away from it thinking it was really boring and uneventful, so... Now I feel like I should re-read it! (Not because I'm a fan of disturbing issues, just because HOW CAN I REMEMBER NOTHING ABOUT IT?!)

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    2. I used to work with a girl who believed that EVERYONE was sexually molested as a child. When a co-worker and I were like "ummm NO" she just brushed it off saying we'd repressed the memory.

      So maybe you guys aren't naive, maybe rape and incest is everywhere ever and we're all just repressing this shit together.

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    3. WHAT?! Ok, that girl maaaaay have been slightly insane. Because, again, also, WHAT?! I actually think just saying that is pretty insulting to the people who actually WERE molested as children because it's like 'oh, no biggie, happens to everyone' which NO IT DOESN'T.

      Yeah, I just got really cross. Probably all that repression I've been doing.

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    4. Well that was my argument, if it's basically a rite of passage why does anyone get upset about it or start organisations to save kids from it. She was straight up cray though. She also thought if you'd ever hurt an animal as a kid you would be a serial killer. When I tried to explain that correlation is not causation she screamed at me! In the store!

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    6. Well, it's been a long time since I read it (15 years? 20 years?), so my specific recall is more than a bit dim, but in The Shipping News there were a handful of fathers and uncles who slept with their daughters/nieces. And while *I* was dreading it each time, everybody else in the book seemed to view it with an air of inevitability. LIke, yeah, it's too bad that it happens, but it does happen, and you just make the best of things and there's no point in getting upset about it.

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  2. "(to Push your way out of them, if you will)"

    I GET IT.

    I can't do sad things. Not super-sad, anyway. And Push seemed like that. AND THIS SEEMS EVEN MORE LIKE THAT SO AHHHHHH.

    But I thank you for reviewing it to make this apparent.

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    1. You are so welcome that I read this so no one else has to. There comes a time in every blogger's life where we have to read the books and make sure no one else does, and this was my turn. It was very dramatic, obviously.

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  3. I don't think I can do this book. I haven't done Push because of the sads and the horribles and then you say stuff like "So it's all... Not good, but at least bearable, until Abdul gets taken into care and everything turns to shit". so it goes from "OK, so I don't want to kill myself constantly" to "Oh wait, now I do. Bye world." And then it gets even worse from there. I...no.

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    1. DON'T read this. Just don't. You can maaaaybe read Push because of that hope thing but if you do, I recommend stopping at the end and pretending that everything's fine and Precious lives a long and full life and everything's FINE. Everything is not fine in this book. (Obviously.)

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    2. yeah I don't even think I can read Push. But thank you for biting the bullet on this so we don't have to. Or if we do, we'd been warned and any trauma we experience is our own damn fault.

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    3. That's fair. And you are welcome! Always happy to read the traumatising shit. *sits in the corner and rocks and cries*

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