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24 April 2011

Push, by Sapphire (Audio Review)


This year has seen a lot of changes in my reading habits. Most notably has been my foray into audiobooks, and while peppered with a few hiccups here and there, it has been so successful that it is now to the point that I always have an audiobook downloaded.

While Push by Sapphire was an absolutely incredible story, tragic and hopeful, with strong and decisively clear messages, it was one I wish I had stopped listening to, and instead picked up the printed version instead. If you're familiar with the story, then you know it's about a young girl living in a neighborhood project with horribly abusive parents. Giving birth to her father's baby when she was only twelve, Precious is now sixteen and is pregnant with his child again. She can't read, so school is more of a haven for her to get away from the abuse, even though she doesn't participate in class at all. When she does, it's merely to tell other students to quiet down. Her weight gives her the extra intimidation to be left alone.

This is not an easy story. Precious hasn't been given any break at all in her short life, and even though she knows she's experiencing horrible things children aren't supposed to go through, it's the only thing she has truly ever known, so it seems as though she almost becomes acclimated to the terror of it all. She's a prisoner in her own life, held hostage by her parents. How can she escape out of it, especially when your captor is someone who is supposed to protect you?

I selected this audiobook because of Bahni Turpin's narration, and if you read my recent review of the audiobook production of The Help, then you know how much I love listening to her voice. In this production, true to form yet again, she has excellent delivery and emotional exertion, and along with Precious' story, leaves the listener thoroughly wiped out. While just under six hours, it was one I did finish because I had to see if Precious did escape from it all, and because of Bahni Turpin's perfect voice.

However...

I cannot read or hear about abuse. It makes me sick, I have nightmares if I even see a quick snippet on the news about something that's happened to anyone, especially a child. Others may be afraid of things that go bump in the night, but it is the plight of children dealt a horrible card in life that keeps me up. Because of this, I had an incredibly difficult time with the audio version of this story. Please note that Bahni Turpin did a fantastic job, but the graphic nature of Precious' reality and what she experiences is so devastating and difficult to listen to without becoming even more emotionally affected by the abuse. I felt like I was sitting next to Precious as she relayed, in first-person graphic perspective, everything that happens with her father and her mother, her conflicted feelings, the births of her children, the struggle of her education. The author, Sapphire, has brought this brutal truth of complexities and internal human conflict to the forefront so effectively that I was gripping my steering wheel listening to each moment, crying, wishing for something innocent and good to happen for Precious, just once in her life. I was infuriated by the abuse, and I know that Precious represents so many children in the world that I was left sick with anger. And although it crushes me to write that I think you should skip the audio over the printed version because you'll miss out on Bahni Turpin's voice, this is a story that, in my opinion, should be read, not listened to.

Raw and emotionally engaging, Sapphire has pulled you through one young girl's life so descriptively that in the end, you are left reeling, mind wandering, with a feeling, a need to do something, anything at all to be part of something bigger than what you are doing in your life now. Can I make a difference, something good? Can I not do what I used to do anymore, which was to simply read about it, or watch something on the news and then move on, allowing someone else to take care of it?

For a beautiful review post on this book, please visit The Picky Girl's site by clicking here.

About the Author
Sapphire is the author of American Dreams, a collection of poetry which was cited by Publishers Weekly as "One of the strongest debut collections of the nineties." Push, her novel, won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane award for First Fiction, the Black Caucus of the America Library Association's First Novelist Award, and, in Great Britain, the Mind Book of the Year Award. Push was named by the Village Voice and Time Out New York as one of the top ten books of 1996. Push was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction.

Sapphire currently lives and works in New York City.

Surprisingly, I couldn't find a website or Twitter account for Sapphire - if anyone has the links, please forward my way and I will edit this post to include both.

20 comments:

  1. This book blew me away when I read it last year. Partly because of the absolutely horrific things Precious endures but also because of the difficulty she has in getting help for something that should have been addressed so much sooner.

    Illiteracy is something that bothers me so much. My freshmen have a difficult time fathoming the inability to read, but I have had developmental students who were functionally illiterate, and it broke my heart.

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  2. I've only listened to a couple audio books ever so I can't really comment on the difference, but I thought the print version was extremely difficult to read too. Definitely a very difficult read. Did you see the movie? I thought that was hard to stomach to (even though this is what I deal with at work every day!!) but I did think the movie did a good job of portraying what was happening to her without actually showing it. Even though it was still so difficult to watch even what they showed.

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  3. I have heard a lot about this book, and have sort of stayed away for the reasons that you so wonderfully express. It is hard to hear and see these things, and the fact that I am raising a daughter makes it all that much harder to hear how terrible things can actually be for young women and men out there. It does sound like an incredible book, but one that I would definitely have to gird myself for before going into it. Thanks for your very emotional and thoughtful review. It goes on my list, but I will be waiting for the right time.

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  4. I do think this is a book that would be better read because at the beginning Precious writes the words the way she sounds them out and it can be a little confusing. I found it a difficult, but powerful, book. Have you seen the movie?

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  5. It's interesting that you say you found it hard to listen to the abuse, I find that there are some things I can read about that, while disturbing, are tolerable but couldn't watch them on film, they just become much too disturbing. I have actually seen the film of this which I thought was brilliant, and hard to watch but ok, so maybe I could handle reading the book. Maybe one for the TBR pile :-)

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  6. I haven't seen the movie of this, nor read the book. I agree that it sounds like one that would be better read. I can handle written abuse better than visual (find it easier to skip pages if needed). It sounds really powerful yet uncomfortable.

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  7. Fantastic review. This one is in the Peace Corps library and I've meaning to read it - but I'm not sure I can take reading about the abuse. Watching the movie, there were scenes I could barely watch; but in that case at least I was a pretty passive viewer and didn't have to do anything but sit and watch. Reading the book, or even listening to it (which takes a whole lot longer than watching the movie) seem more active, maybe making this book harder to get through.

    -- Ellen

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  8. Gosh it definitely sounds like a book you need to manipulate, meaning take breaks from, i.e., throw across the room. So not a book for me right now, given how easily my heart breaks and the waterworks burst these days. Even reading a review of only the facts makes me grind my teeth.

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  9. I read this one as a part of an adolescent lit class in grad school. REALLY tough read, but I can't even imagine listening. I'm having a hard time with ROOM by Emma Donoghue on audio right now.

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  10. I can imagine this would be an incredibly intense book to listen to so I don't blame you for having to set this one down. I love audiobooks too but for me, they have to be on the 'fluffier' side to work. So this would not work for me either!

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  11. what a beautiful and heart-wrenching review. in my former job as an executive director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) I worked with children who escaped the horrific abuses Precious endures. CASA is a volunteer program that anyone can help with - providing a voice to children who have none. I encourage everyone to check it out - it is a way to do something.
    http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301309/k.9D58/Volunteering.htm

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  12. I am the same way about abuse. I have a hard time reading about it or watching it on screen which is why I have been hesitant to see the movie. I was the same way with Bastard out of Carolina. Think I may give in and give the book a try eventually though.

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  13. What an intense topic! Great review I loved Precious but not sure I can handle another! Thanks for the review.

    Pop past our blog to say hi!

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  14. This book was very difficult to get through but it's a good one, just disturbing.

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  15. This is one of those books I know I should read but I know I can't read. It's just too hard for me to read. If I do find it somewhere I think I will read rather than listen. Thanks for a great review.

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  16. Great discussion of audio v. print. I have a hard time with audio versions of graphic violence, which doesn't bother me the least in print. I read this book (haven't done audio or the movie) and found it horrifying but readable, if that makes sense. I can definitely see the audio being harder. What a story. Props to Sapphire.

    I've had a difficult time with audio in general (just trying out the format over the last few months) but I think it's growing on me. Hard to argue with all the extra time I can spend "reading" while driving to and from work! If they ever finish the rail line to my neighborhood I may get on the train and go back to really-reading.

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  17. Wow, this story is powerful in every format; Movie, Books, Audio Book. Thanks for sharing your review.

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  18. I read this book in print and also had a hard time getting through the horrible scenes of abuse. I don't think I will be watching the movie any time soon, or at all.

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  19. Usually when I read about abuse, I would cry and feel sad, but that's about it. When I read some parts of Push, it was like a blast of icy water in the guts. I struggled with the print, so I'm sure listening would have been even worse. This was a really important and moving book.

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  20. I haven't read this one and only generally knew the story. After reading your description I think I'd have a hard time reading the book, much less listening to it. It's amazing how much more real an audiobook by a convincing narrator can be than reading words on a page. In many cases, that's what I love about audiobooks, but in this instance, I think I'd feel similarly to you. Good to know about another great reader, though -- always looking out for those!

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