It has been 15 years since the novel "Push" introduced readers to Claireece "Precious" Jones, an illiterate abused teen mother with AIDS. It has been two years since "Precious," the movie version of that book, rocked the film industry winning a number of major awards including two Academy Awards.
Early this month, "Push" author, Sapphire, re-entered the literary scene with her second novel, "The Kid," (The Penguin Press, $25.95). The novel, a journey into the life of Precious' son, Abdul, begins the day of her funeral. Abdul is 9 years old and he's all alone in the world. But despite the opening scene, Sapphire is quick to note, ‘The Kid" is not a traditional sequel.
"It is a sequel in that it continues to look at the profound and devastating effect AIDS has had on the African-American community," said Sapphire by phone before her Tuesday book signing in Atlanta. "I wanted to do another psychological portrait of a character."
Brace yourself for a journey through a new set of social issues that define Abdul's generation from adoption and the foster care system to sex abuse in the Catholic church.
But the author bristles when asked why her work is always so heavy.
"I'm an artist and this type of social realism is something I have taken on as a task," she said. "Imagine a Russian peasant going up to [Fyodor] Dostoevsky and asking, ‘Why are you always writing about the poor, why are you always writing about crime and punishment?'"
Sapphire believes some buttons were just meant for pushing. She may not be a social worker, but if she were, heaven help the foster care system.
"We have in our country a large pool of adoptable African-American children, especially black boys, who do not ever get adopted," Sapphire said. "They kind of tell that to Abdul [which they have no business telling him, she adds] to disempower him. They tell him it would be easier for him to be adopted if he was small or a girl or biracial."
For these reasons, Sapphire said she firmly believes in adoption of all sorts from transracial adoption to adoption of children by single women. "Had Abdul been adopted at 9-years-old, I wouldn't have had to write ‘The Kid,'" she said.
Instead, Abdul is sent on a harrowing trip through a foster home and the hospital until he lands at a Catholic orphanage where structure and consistency provide enough comfort to convince him that the abuse he suffers (and subsequently perpetrates) is just part of the deal.
Things get difficult when a series of circumstances lead Abdul to be removed from the orphanage and mainlined back into his past. Along the way, he discovers the most unlikely of passions for a boy on the brink of manhood. Dancing becomes his focus and in some ways, his salvation.
"Anyone who dances knows that primal connection with the beat which is a metaphor for the heart. It is the rhythm that allows him to connect again," Sapphire said.
Abdul, she says, is not a psychopath, but he is filled with guilt. His mental confusion has affected his senses and ultimately he has no choice but to confront and begin to tell the truth.
Just as readers (and later viewers) had the opportunity to cheer for the downtrodden Precious, so will Abdul's followers find reason to hope that his spirit will rise.
Completing his story brought Sapphire a personal transformation of her own. "I feel I've turned a corner," she said. "Up until I finished ‘The Kid,' I was a poet who had written a novel. Now I am stepping up and calling myself a novelist."
Book Signing -- "The Kid," by Sapphire (The Penguin Press, $25.95).
7 p.m. Tuesday. Free (Preferred seating with advance book purchase at Outwrite, www.outwritebooks.com or the event). St. Mark's United Methodist Church, 781 Peachtree Street N.E. (Sponsored by Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse). 404-607-0082. www.outwritebooks.com.
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