“The cycle was broken with Precious,” Sapphire said about the character who made her a household name.
Fifteen years ago, Sapphire introduced Precious Jones and her son Abdul in her debut novel Push, creating a sensation on the urban literature scene. Gritty and graphic, Push tackled the topics of incest, abuse, a failed education system, teen pregnancy and AIDS.
Precious is a living statistic, but fights her way through for the sake of her son. As Sapphire returns to the story in her new novel The Kid (to be released on Tuesday), she knows that Precious must ultimately lose her battle.
“The reality is that – even with the strong will African Americans have – if the structure for society is oppressive, your will is not enough,” Sapphire told The American.
Sapphire will return to St. Louis next week to discuss the follow-up to her wildly successful book that received a second wind in 2009 when director Lee Daniels turned the novel into the Academy Award-winning film Precious.
“It was something about the movie and reconnecting with the audience and the people who had loved Precious and loved Push,” Sapphire said.
“I heard people talk about the progress that they made as far as combating violence against women and children, and I thought, ‘It had made a difference.’ I thought, ‘It’s time.’”
The new book picks up several years from where she left off in Push.
“It shows the generational effects of AIDS and poverty and the interfamilial cycle of abuse and Abdul’s generational connection to the past,” Sapphire said.
“We get a really good look at what happens to disenfranchised African-American youth. When Precious fell, Abdul’s whole world fell.”
The story begins with Precious’ final fight and Abdul’s tumultuous experience as a ward of the state in a flawed foster care system.
“He goes through an odyssey that is familiar to most African-American children – they have a hard time in the foster care system,” Sapphire said. “And an African-American boy has less of a chance of being adopted than any other group of children.”
Through Abdul, Sapphire takes her nearly unbearable insight into unspeakable abuse a step further. In stark contrast to his mother, Abdul becomes one of the victimizers who continue the cycle of abuse. As he imposes the terror he has experienced on others, the book becomes nearly too graphic to bear.
“This whole system is dehumanizing ,” Sapphire said. “When you dehumanize people, they will act less than human – they will act accordingly. There are consequences for treating children this way.”
The story is heartbreaking, but Sapphire believes it to be necessary as an effort to combat the atrocities that young people quietly suffer at the hands of a system that sets them up to become failures and future predators.
“If he had gone to a loving mom straight into a stable family with loving parents, I wouldn’t have had a book to write,” Sapphire said. “This is what is happening domestically with displaced children.”
But she also wants to illustrate that Abdul has the capacity to deal with his demons – like so many have done before him.
“He is as strong a character as Precious – maybe even stronger,” Sapphire said. “You will be horrified by what he does, but have a hard time not embracing this character. You will meet somebody you know – another human.”
Sapphire will sign and discuss her latest novel The Kid 7 p.m. July 13 at Christ Church Cathedral (1210 Locust). For more information, visit http://www.left-bank.com/">www.left-bank.com.