Pushing Through It All.

Sapphire. Push. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

71332.jpg Sapphire's Push is a novel told from the perspective of the main character, Claireece Precious Jones, a sixteen year old girl writing about her experiences growing up in the Bronx in New York. Growing up in a home with a physically and emotionally abusive mother and a sexually abusive father, Precious is forced to grow up at an unreasonably young age. Precious is repeatedly raped by her father who only visits her home when he wants sex from both Precious' mother and herself. Consequently, Precious is left with two children and HIV. Giving birth to her first child at the age of twelve, Precious is in no condition to be raising a child of her own when she is still a child herself so her grandmother raises the child for her. After causing a problem in her class at school Precious is suspended from school and forced to spend her days trapped inside her mother's apartment. Mrs. Lichenstein, one of Precious' teachers, pays a visit to the apartment and urges Precious to attend an alternative school called Each One Teach One. After some consternation, Precious decides to check out this new school and meets the teacher that changes Precious' life, Ms. Rain. Precious does not know how to read, write, or tell time but with the help of Ms. Rain she soon begins to progress academically and emotionally. Precious gets pregnant a second time, again by her father, and delivers her second child, a son named Abdul Jamal Louis Jones, at the age of sixteen. Even though the teenager now has a son to take care of, Precious remains in school at Each One Teach One with a determination to learn so that her son may have a better life than her illiterate, abusive childhood.

"everi mornin" by Precious j.
Everi mornin
i write
a poem
before I go to
marY Had a little lamb
but I got a kid
an HIV
that folow me
to school
one day.

The story of the life of a young girl growing up in less-than-ideal conditions is a tough read. Not only is the novel written in African American Ebonics but the sexual content, profanity, and language is anything but watered-down. In fact, it is the most "hardcore" book that we have read. While the language and images are definitely strong, the story is amazing. It is hard for us to connect to Precious because her story is one that we are so unfamiliar with but the fact that she is a teenager, as we once were, gives us some common ground - albeit only common ground. This book would need to be taught in an alternative school, if anywhere at all, because of the content, language, and gritty topics covered. Our group was split with our opinions about this book. One person really liked the book and the movie, Precious, that is a film adaption of Push. One group member strongly dislikes this book in its entirety, one was unsure about how they felt about it, and one liked the story for what it was. Collectively, our group agreed that we respect the use of Ebonics throughout because it is a different and intriguing use of language and narrative style. We also found a few times that the book was a bit humorous, especially when the reader was able to hear Precious' thoughts about her other classmates at Each One Teach One and when she was talking with her therapist, who she clearly did not like.

One last note: If you are going to be brave and embark on the adventure of reading Push, keep it mind that you may need to set it down at times, go listen to some Christmas music, and do something that makes you happy. It is a tough book to get through but, some would say, it opens your eyes to the harsh truths of some teenagers' lives.

Recommendations for Teachers
Educators have debated whether this book should be taught in the classroom. It presents ideas that are very real in the world around us, but it is argued that the manner in which it is presented may be too much for a high school student to handle. Not to mention, most high school students may not be mature enough to appropriately handle the prolific language and explicit sexual content throughout the text. Although Push could be used to present students with an example of a teenage girl who overcame tremendous obstacles that no child her age should have to face, the novel is probably, to be quite honest, too much for most adolescents to handle.

We do not think that Sapphire's novel Push should be taught as a class text in a secondary classroom because the book presents difficult subject matter that has great potential to effect students emotionally and mentally. Although the book should not be required, we believe the book should be offered as a choice for small group literature circles in an Advanced Placement English class. If a group chooses to read Push, the teacher should make an extra effect to converse with the group about what the book entails prior to the reading of it and should continue to provide support to the group and discussion of the book throughout the reading process. Because the book is written in African-American Ebonics, it is a difficult read and should be undertaken by ambitious students looking for a challenge.

About Sapphire
Ramona Lofton, also known to the literature world as, "Sapphire," came from what was seen on the surface as a normal home and family, but underneath, Ramona's home was very broken and troubled. With her father being a sergeant in the army, he was often absent and at the age of thirteen, Ramona's mother fell victim to alcoholism and eventually ran away. That same year, tragedy struck again. Just months after her mother left, Ramona's brother was murdered. After dropping out of San Francisco City College in the 1970s, Ramona left everything to live in New York. Rough times fell upon her again in the Big Apple. In order to feed herself, Ramona had to take up house cleaning and topless dancing jobs. Ramona began writing poetry about her troubled life and realized she needed to go back to school. Upon graduating from college in the 1980s, she attended graduate school at Brooklyn University. Ramona wrote and published multiple poems and books but her most notable work is Push. Written over the course of a few years, Push was not published until 1996, after she had submitted the first 100 pages into a festival. Winning first prize, Ramona was offered $500,000 dollars to complete the book. It was then that the power story of Precious would be known to thousands.

Ramona Lofton "Sapphire" interview on the novel, Push


Official movie trailer for Precious (2009) based on Sapphire's novel Push:

Soundtrack for Push:
1. "There Goes My Life" - Kenny Chesney

2. "You're Gonna Be" - Reba McEntire

3. "Blessed" - Elton John

4. "Family Portrait" - Pink

5. "Love Is Blind" - Eve

6. "Rain On Me" - Ashanti

7. "Facedown" - Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

8. "How Come, How Long" - Stevie Wonder and Baby Face

9. "Runaway Love" - Ludacris featuring Mary J. Blige

Additional Resources:
  • American Pregnancy Helpline - This helpline provides information on pregnancy health, unplanned pregnancies, a baby's first year, sexual health, family and relationships pertaining to pregnancy, and a "Guy's Corner" for the father involved in the pregnancy.
  • Safe Horizon Helpline - "Safe Horizon moves victims of violence from crisis to confidence." This website will help victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, child abuse, and homeless youth. The helpline also provides legal and community resources for those in need.
  • Children's Aid Society - This helpline serves early childhood and school-age children, adolescents, and parents by providing family support, counseling, community services, legal support, pregnancy prevention programs, and youth development services.
  • How Push Became "Precious" - Written in 2009, NPR presents an article with direct quotes from author Sapphire about her thoughts on how her novel Push (1996) became the full-length film Precious (2009).
  • Readers' Responses to Push - This site displays comments from multiple people who have read Push and how they felt about the novel.
  • Ramona Lofton - This is the uncut, autobiographical page of Ramona Lofton, otherwise known as Sapphire. This page tells a strong story of Ramona's troubled personal background ending with her triumph in young adult literature.
  • GED Preparation - This online website will assist students seeking to earn a GED. This particular site is for individuals between the school levels of 9-12. Here the students will be able to practice basic reading, writing, math, and science skills, to help prepare for final exam.
  • Alternative Education- This online resource helps students choose alternate ways of schooling rather than dropping out.
  • Teaching Push - This website provides ideas and resources teachers can use if teaching Push. It has activities or readings other teachers have incorporated into their classroom while teaching the novel.
  • Michigan Department of Education - A list of schools of alternative schools in Michigan.

--Elizabeth Harris, Kirstie Smith, Ben Kuzniar, Cecil Johnson.
(Additional reviews: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and If I Stay by Gayle Forman)