In her first novel, Push (1996), Sapphire chronicled the life of an overweight, abused, illiterate teenager living in Harlem. The novel was adapted into the Academy Award–winning film Precious.
The Story: In this sequel to Push, Precious Jones has died, leaving behind her nine-year-old son, Abdul. Abdul is thrown into the foster-care system and eventually sent to a Catholic boys' home. There, Abdul is called J. J. and endures years of sexual abuse by men who were charged to care for him. It isn't long before J. J. becomes a rapist himself, preying on the younger and smaller boys within the home. But when 13-year-old J. J. stumbles upon an African dance class, he finds meaning and purpose.
Penguin. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594203046
"Sapphire gives Abdul a frank, intimate and urgent voice that, though it often repels, has a cadence that compels both the character and the reader to endure, with hope of some kind of liberation from all of the abuse both taken and delivered. ... This is a greatly textured story, varying from mood to mood, line to line, devoted to encompassing the deceptions, placations and terrors of Abdul's mental landscape." M.E. Collins
Los Angeles Times
"Sapphire has taken the challenges her Kid faces and distilled them into a devastating voice, demanding and raw. ... It is an accomplished work of art, but it is a grueling story, one whose depictions of brutality and desire may be too challenging for some readers." Carolyn Kellogg
"[U]nlike Push, which, despite its grim tale of pathologies, offered slivers of hope, The Kid provides little if any relief for its characters or its readers. ... One wonders why Sapphire is so unflinching in her descriptions of abuse, describing in graphic detail rape, molestation, the exploitation of children and the complex reactions of victims who find a sick pleasure in the hands of their abusers." DeNeen Brown
"Maybe we should be happy with this story about the struggles of the human spirit in a society seemingly ill-equipped to handle the full complexity of an at-risk and still-grieving boy's need. But Sapphire's urban abyss is wrenchingly brutal." Tyrone Beason
Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel
"Sapphire's strategically placed four-year gaps allow her to move this long and often tedious novel forward, and she tries to fill those gaps in by resorting to the same crosscutting technique she used so well in Push, in which flashbacks allowed Precious to flesh out her story and create a self. In The Kid, those flashbacks are repetitious and the characters populating them are cartoons." Mike Fischer
There's no way to sugarcoat The Kid. Critics found the novel brutal and repellant. There is no one to empathize with in this grim tale, not even Abdul Jones, and the sexual explicitness involving children was hard to take. The Washington Post critic found that "the only possible respite can be found in the poetry of her prose," but even she acknowledged that Sapphire's narrative drifts in parts. Ultimately, the novel left reviewers feeling shaken, uncomfortable, and a little sick. But maybe that was Sapphire's point.