Precious (Push Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries)

By Sapphire
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Vintage, (10/20/2009)
Language:English



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Includes a Reading Group Guide


Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem's casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as she learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it truly her own for the first time.
 
 

"Precious (Push Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries)"
By Sapphire

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. What does this story tell us about the inadequacy of ordinary schools to deal with students' problems and with their resulting learning handicaps? "I got A in English and never say nuffin', do nuffin'"[p. 49], Precious says. Precious's principal in effect tells her teacher to give up on her, saying, "Focus on the ones who canlearn"[p. 37]. Is this an understandable or forgivable attitude? How would you describe Mr. Wicher and his teaching methods? Is he merely a coward or is he trying his best? 

2. "The tesses paint a picture of me wif no brain," says Precious. "The tesses paint a picture of me an' my muver—my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible"[p. 30]. In what way are Precious and her family members invisible to the larger world? If you have read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, can you compare the way the two authors use the metaphor of invisibility for their characters? 

3. During the course of the story, Precious is obliged to confront her own prejudices and modify or reject them. Her experience with the Hispanic EMS man makes her look at Hispanics for the first time as human beings like herself; her friendship with Ms. Rain and Jermaine makes her reexamine her knee-jerk homophobia. Early in the novel she says, "I hate crack addicts. They give the race a bad name"[p. 14], but later she questions that uncompromising position. In an interview, Sapphire said of Precious that "she doesn't know that hating gay people or hating Jews or hating foreigners is detrimental to her" (Interview, June 1996). Why is it detrimental to her? Why is it imperative that she lose her prejudices before she, herself, can be helped? 

4. How would you describe Precious's self-image at the beginning of the book, and how would you describe it at the end? How have her friends and supporters succeeded in helping to alter her view of herself? 

5. What is Precious's attitude toward Louis Farrakhan and his movement at the beginning of the story? How does this attitude change during the course of her education? Why have Farrakhan and his opinions become such a vital part of her worldview? What do you deduce the author's attitude toward him to be? 

6. A famous—or perhaps infamous—Labor Department study, the Moynihan Report, blamed the absence of fathers and the dominance of women (rather than economic and racial inequality) for the problems confronting the African American family. Many black scholars and activists have argued against the report's conclusions. Which side of the argument do you believe Push to support? 

7. Push presents what one reviewer called "one of the most disturbing portraits of motherhood ever published" (City Paper, November 1996). How would you explain or interpret Precious's mother's behavior?  

8. "Miz Rain say we is a nation of raped children, that the black man in America today is the product of rape" [pp. 68–69]. What does Ms. Rain mean by this metaphor, and does it strike you as an accurate one? 

9. Precious tells Ms. Rain that the welfare helps her mother, to which Ms. Rain responds, "When you get home from the hospital look and see how much welfare has helped your mother" [p. 73]. What does this novel indicate about abuses and inadequacies in the system? How might an ideal system be constructed? 

10. Precious's file reflects the government "workfare" point of view, that Precious should already be earning her own living, possibly as a home attendant. Precious objects violently to this idea. Can you understand the social worker's point of view? Have Precious's and Jermaine's arguments [pp. 121–123] changed any opinions you previously held on this subject? 

11. "Miz Rain say value. Values determine how we live much as money do. I say Miz Rain stupid there. All I can think she don't know to have NOTHIN'"[p. 64]. Which opinion do you agree with, or is there something to be said for both? What answer, if any, does the novel offer? 

12. "One of the myths we've been taught," Sapphire has said, "is that oppression creates moral superiority. I'm here to tell you that the more oppressed a person is, the more oppressive they will be" (Bomb, Fall 1996). How does the novel illustrate the concept of the cycle of abuse? How does Precious break that cycle, and what aspects of her own character enable her to do so? 

13. Push has been called a Dickensian novel, to which Sapphire has responded, "Part of what's so wrong in this story is that we're not in a Dickensian era. Those things shouldn't be happening in a post-industrial society" (Bomb, Fall 1996). She sees the novel as "an indictment of American culture, which is both black and white" (ibid). What aspects of our culture have enabled the inequities described in the novel to develop? Would you say that contemporary American cities consist, as Dickens's London was said to, of two entirely different cultures, the rich one and the poor?  

14. Why do you think Sapphire has chosen to end the story where she does? Does the book end on a sad or hopeful note? What sort of future do you envision for Precious? 

15. What is the significance of the novel's title, Push? At what points in her life is Precious enjoined to "push"? What is meant by this word, and how does Precious respond to the injunctions? 



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Amazon.com Review
Claireece Precious Jones endures unimaginable hardships in her young life. Abused by her mother, raped by her father, she grows up poor, angry, illiterate, fat, unloved and generally unnoticed. So what better way to learn about her than through her own, halting dialect. That is the device deployed in the first novel by poet and singer Sapphire. "Sometimes I wish I was not alive," Precious says. "But I don't know how to die. Ain' no plug to pull out. 'N no matter how bad I feel my heart don't stop beating and my eyes open in the morning." An intense story of adversity and the mechanisms to cope with it.

Precious is now a major motion picture based on the novel Push by Sapphire, starring Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, and Lenny Kravitz. Enjoy these images from the film, and click the thumbnails to see larger images.




--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



From Publishers Weekly
With this much anticipated first novel, told from the point of view of an illiterate, brutalized Harlem teenager, Sapphire (American Dreams), a writer affiliated with the Nuyorican poets, charts the psychic damage of the most ghettoized of inner-city inhabitants. Obese, dark-skinned, HIV-positive, bullied by her sexually abusive mother, Clareece, Precious Jones is, at the novel's outset, pregnant for the second time with her father's child. (Precious had her first daughter at 12, named Little Mongo, "short for Mongoloid Down Sinder, which is what she is; sometimes what I feel I is. I feel so stupid sometimes. So ugly, worth nuffin.") Referred to a pilot program by an unusually solicitous principal, Precious comes under the experimental pedagogy of a lesbian miracle worker named, implausibly enough, Blue Rain. Under her angelic mentorship, Precious, who has never before experienced real nurturing, learns to voice her long suppressed feelings in a journal. As her language skills improve, she finds sustenance in writing poetry, in friendships and in support groups-one for "insect" survivors and one for HIV-positive teens. It is here that Sapphire falters, as her slim and harrowing novel, with its references to Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes and The Color Purple (a parallel the author hints at again and again), becomes a conventional, albeit dark and unresolved, allegory about redemption. The ending, composed of excerpts from the journals of Precious's classmates, lends heightened realism and a wider scope to the narrative, but also gives it a quality of incompleteness. Sapphire has created a remarkable heroine in Precious, whose first-person street talk is by turns blisteringly savvy, rawly lyrical, hilariously pig-headed and wrenchingly vulnerable. Yet that voice begs to be heard in a larger novel of more depth and complexity. 150,000 first printing; first serial to the New Yorker; audio rights to Random; foreign rights sold to England, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Brazil. 
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. 
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



From Library Journal
Performance poet Sapphire unflinchingly probes the consciousness of an all-too-real teenager from a severely abusive household. Push opens to find Precious?fat, unloved, illiterate, deeply confused, routinely raped by her father, and physically and emotionally molested by her mother?enduring her second incestuous pregnancy. Crawling from self-hatred and violent loneliness to determination and, occasionally, hope, Precious enters a pre-GED program, learns to read, bears her second child, and breaks from her parents, all under the inspiration of Blue Rain, her steadfastly encouraging and apparently tireless new teacher. Precious's name loses its irony but soon takes on a dark new meaning as she learns the extent of her father's abuse. Written as an internal monolog and journal entries by Precious, with her rudimentary spelling skills and abrupt transitions, Push is compelling, graphic, and occasionally facile but disturbing and not soon forgotten. Recommended.
-?Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. 
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



From Booklist
Sapphire returns to the themes of incest and child abuse that were a part of her daring American Dreams (1984) but with a starkness that is truly horrifying and unforgettable, perhaps because of the horror. Precious Jones lives in a world worse than the one inhabited by the character Celie inThe Color Purple. She, too, is a victim of abuse. At 16, Precious finds herself pregnant again by her father, untrained, uneducated, and unable to care for herself or her baby. She is astute enough to know that there is a better way to live but is clueless as to how to get there. Fortunately for Precious, she meets a black teacher, Ms. Blue Rain, who pushes her to change with encouragement and inspiration. Ms. Rain challenges Precious to learn to read and write and improve her way of life. In her literacy class, Miss Rain instructs all of her students to maintain a journal; readers experience Precious' transformation in her journal entries. Her development and growth are astonishing in the short period of time we share her writings. Push is an intense work, both heartbreaking and frightening. The work is slated for a 150,000-copy first printing, excerpted in the New Yorker, and will also be published in England, France, Germany, and other countries. Lillian Lewis --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



From Kirkus Reviews
Poet Sapphire's slim first novel draws on her experience as a performance artist and literacy teacher: She tells her sad but sentimentally uplifting story in the voice of a 17-year-old illiterate from Harlem, and the result is more sociological (in the Ricki Lake mold) than literary. Clareece Precious Jones is a study in abuse. Continually raped by her father since the age of five, she's now pregnant for the second time with his baby, the first having been born with Down's syndrome when Precious was 12. Meantime, her mother is no help, calling the overweight girl a ``fat cunt bucket slut,'' beating her at will, and satisfying her own bizarre sexual needs from her daughter. Schools have also all failed her; teachers find her ``uncooperative,'' and she considers her last a ``retarded hoe.'' Finally, Precious enrolls in a Harlem alternative school where she begins the tough climb out of illiteracy. No longer dreaming impossible ideas about rappers and movie star fame, she joins six others in a basic-skills class run by Blue Rain, a self-proclaimed lesbian who isn't afraid to editorialize in class. In short order, Precious discovers the joys of the alphabet and journal-writing, the pleasures of owning books and composing poetry. Although she raises herself to a seventh-grade level by narrative's end, she also finds out she's HIV positive. All of this is transcribed in a phonetic spelling that's supposed to reflect Precious's actual abilities, but seems condescending--and woefully unauthentic--since Sapphire often loses control of the voice. The homage to The Color Purple (``One thing I say about Farrakhan and Alice Walker they help me like being black'') highlights Sapphire's commercial aspirations, as well as, by contrast, her technical inadequacies. A maudlin (at times pornographic) advertisement for the power of literacy and the value of recovery groups. (First printing of 150,000) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Review

An affecting and impassioned work that sails on the strength of pure, stirring feeling from a girl who should have had all the feeling knocked out of her. -- The New York Times Book Review, Rosemary Mahoney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Review
"You feel you've witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul." —Entertainment Weekly

"Affecting and impassioned. . . . Sails on the strength of pure, stirring feeling." —
The New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating novel that may well find a place in the African-American literary canon. . . . With a fresh new voice that echoes the streets, Sapphire's work is sure to win as many hearts as it disturbs minds." —
Philadelphia Inquirer

"A horrific, hope-filled story [that is] brilliant, blunt, merciless." —
Newsday

"Brutal, redemptive. . . . You just can't take your eyes off Precious Jones." —
Newsweek

"A stunningly frank effort that marks the emergence of an immensely promising writer." —
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Sapphire] writes with a poet's ear for rhythms, in a voice that pushes her story relentlessly into your mind." —
Interview

"
Push . . . develops so richly and fearlessly that one cannon resist its power." —Elle

"Precious's story, told through her own unique style and spelling, is a major achievement. It documents a remarkable resilience of spirit." —
Boston Globe

"To read the story [is] magic. . . . [It is] paint-peelingly profane and thoroughly real." --Washington Post

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
1

I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver. That was in 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She's retarded. I had got left back in the second grade too, when I was seven, 'cause I couldn't read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf' grade so I can gone 'n graduate. But I'm not. I'm in the ninfe grade.

I got suspended from school 'cause I'm pregnant which I don't think is fair. I ain' did nothin'!

My name is Claireece Precious Jones. I don't know why I'm telling you that. Guess 'cause I don't know how far I'm gonna go with this story, or whether it's even a story or why I'm talkin'; whether I'm gonna start from the beginning or right from here or two weeks from now. Two weeks from now? Sure you can do anything when you talking or writing, it's not like living when you can only do what you doing. Some people tell a story 'n it don't make no sense or be true. But I'm gonna try to make sense and tell the truth, else what's the fucking use? Ain' enough lies and shit out there already?

So, OK, it's Thursday, September twenty-four 1987 and I'm walking down the hall. I look good, smell good-fresh, clean. It's hot but I do not take off my leather jacket even though it's hot, it might get stolen or lost. Indian summer, Mr Wicher say. I don't know why he call it that. What he mean is, it's hot, 90 degrees, like summer days. And there is no, none, I mean none, air conditioning in this mutherfucking building. The building I'm talking about is, of course, I.S. 146 on 134th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. I am walking down the hall from homeroom to first period maff. Why they put some shit like maff first period I do not know. Maybe to gone 'n git it over with. I actually don't mind maff as much as I had thought I would. I jus' fall in Mr Wicher's class sit down. We don't have assigned seats in Mr Wicher's class, we can sit anywhere we want. I sit in the same seat everyday, in the back, last row, next to the door. Even though I know that back door be locked. I don't say nuffin' to him. He don't say nuffin' to me, now. First day he say, "Class turn the book pages to page 122 please." I don't move. He say, "Miss Jones, I said turn the book pages to page 122." I say, "Mutherfucker I ain't deaf!" The whole class laugh. He turn red. He slam his han' down on the book and say, "Try to have some discipline." He a skinny little white man about five feets four inches. A peckerwood as my mother would say. I look at him 'n say, "I can slam too. You wanna slam?" 'N I pick up my book 'n slam it down on the desk hard. The class laugh some more. He say, "Miss Jones I would appreciate it if you would leave the room right NOW." I say, "I ain' going nowhere mutherfucker till the bell ring. I came here to learn maff and you gon' teach me." He look like a bitch just got a train pult on her. He don't know what to do. He try to recoup, be cool, say, "Well, if you want to learn, calm down--" "I'm calm," I tell him. He say, "If you want to learn, shut up and open your book." His face is red, he is shaking. I back off. I have won. I guess.

I didn't want to hurt him or embarrass him like that you know. But I couldn't let him, anybody, know, page 122 look like page 152, 22, 3, 6, 5--all the pages look alike to me. 'N I really do want to learn. Everyday I tell myself something gonna happen, some shit like on TV. I'm gonna break through or somebody gonna break through to me--I'm gonna learn, catch up, be normal, change my seat to the front of the class. But again, it has not been that day.

But thas the first day I'm telling you about. Today is not the first day and like I said I was on my way to maff class when Mrs Lichenstein snatch me out the hall to her office. I'm really mad 'cause actually I like maff even though I don't do nuffin', don't open my book even. I jus' sit there for fifty minutes. I don't cause trouble. In fac' some of the other natives get restless I break on 'em. I say, "Shut up mutherfuckers I'm tryin' to learn something." First they laugh like trying to pull me into fuckin' with Mr Wicher and disrupting the class. Then I get up 'n say, "Shut up mutherfuckers I'm tryin' to learn something." The coons clowning look confuse, Mr Wicher look confuse. But I'm big, five feet nine-ten, I weigh over two hundred pounds. Kids is scared of me. "Coon fool," I tell one kid done jumped up. "Sit down, stop ackin' silly." Mr Wicher look at me confuse but grateful. I'm like the polices for Mr Wicher. I keep law and order. I like him, I pretend he is my husband and we live together in Weschesser, wherever that is.

I can see by his eyes Mr Wicher like me too. I wish I could tell him about all the pages being the same but I can't. I'm getting pretty good grades. I usually do. I just wanna gone get the fuck out of I.S. 146 and go to high school and get my diploma.

Anyway I'm in Mrs Lichenstein's office. She's looking at me, I'm looking at her. I don't say nuffin'. Finally she say, "So Claireece, I see we're expecting a little visitor." But it's not like a question, she's telling me. I still don't say nuffin'. She staring at me, from behind her big wooden desk, she got her white bitch hands folded together on top her desk.

"Claireece."

Everybody call me Precious. I got three names--Claireece Precious Jones. Only mutherfuckers I hate call me Claireece.

"How old are you Claireece?"

White cunt box got my file on her desk. I see it. I ain't that late to lunch. Bitch know how old I am.

"Sixteen is ahh rather ahh"--she clear her throat--"old to still be in junior high school."

I still don't say nuffin'. She know so much let her ass do the talking.

"Come now, you are pregnant, aren't you Claireece?"

She asking now, a few seconds ago the hoe just knew what I was.

"Claireece?"

She tryin' to talk all gentle now and shit.

"Claireece, I'm talking to you."

I still don't say nuffin'. This hoe is keeping me from maff class. I like maff class. Mr Wicher like me in there, need me to keep those rowdy niggers in line. He nice, wear a dope suit every day. He do not come to school looking like some of these other nasty ass teachers.

"I don't want to miss no more of maff class," I tell stupid ass Mrs Lichenstein.

She look at me like I said I wanna suck a dog's dick or some shit. What's with this cunt bucket? (That's what my muver call women she don't like, cunt buckets. I kinda get it and I kinda don't get it, but I like the way it sounds so I say it too.)

I get up to go, Mrs Lichenstein ax me to please sit down, she not through with me yet. But I'm through with her, thas what she don't get.

"This is your second baby?" she says. I wonder what else it say in that file with my name on it. I hate her.

"I think we should have a parent-teacher conference Claireece--me, you, and your mom."

"For what?" I say. "I ain' done nuffin'. I doose my work. I ain' in no trouble. My grades is good."

Mrs Lichenstein look at me like I got three arms or a bad odor out my pussy or something.

What my muver gon' do I want to say. What is she gonna do? But I don't say that. I jus' say, "My muver is busy. "

"Well maybe I could arrange to come to your house--" The look on my face musta hit her, which is what I was gonna do if she said one more word. Come to my house! Nosy ass white bitch! I don't think so! We don't be coming to your house in Weschesser or wherever the fuck you freaks live. Well I be damned, I done heard everything, white bitch wanna visit.

"Well then Claireece, I'm afraid I'm going to have to suspend you--"

"For what!"

"You're pregnant and--"

"You can't suspend me for being pregnant, I got rights!"

"Your attitude Claireece is one of total uncooperation--"

I reached over the desk. I was gonna yank her fat ass out that chair. She fell backwards trying to get away from me 'n started screaming, "SECURITY SECURITY!"

I was out the door and on the street and I could still hear her stupid ass screaming, "SECURITY SECURITY!"

"Precious!" That's my mother calling me.

I don't say nothin'. She been staring at my stomach. I know what's coming. I keep washing dishes. We had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and Wonder bread for dinner. I don't know how many months pregnant I am. I don't wanna stand here 'n hear Mama call me slut. Holler 'n shout on me all day like she did the last time. Slut! Nasty ass tramp! What you been doin'! Who! Who! WHOoooo like owl in Walt Disney movie I seen one time. Whooo? Ya wanna know who--

"Claireece Precious Jones I'm talkin' to you!"

I still don't answer her. I was standing at this sink the last time I was pregnant when them pains hit, wump! Ahh wump! I never felt no shit like that before. Sweat was breaking out on my forehead, pain like fire was eating me up. I jus' standing there 'n pain hit me, then pain go sit down, then pain git up 'n hit me harder! 'N she standing there screaming at me, "Slut! Goddam slut! You fuckin' cow! I don't believe this, right under my nose. You been high tailing it round here." Pain hit me again, then she hit me. I'm on the floor groaning, "Mommy please, Mommy please, please Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY!" Then she KICK me side of my face! "Whore! Whore!" she screamin'. Then Miz West live down the hall pounding on the door, hollering "Mary! Mary! What you doin'! You gonna kill that chile! She need help not no beating, is you crazy!"

Mama say, "She shoulda tole me she was pregnant!"

"Jezus Mary, you didn't know. I knew, the whole building knew. Are you crazy--"

"Don't tell me nothin' about my own chile--"

"Nine-one-one! Nine-one-one! Nine-one-one!" Miz West screamin' now. She call Mama a fool.

Pain walking on me now. Jus' stomping on me. I can't see hear, I jus' screamin', "Mommy! Mommy!"

Some mens, these ambulance mens, I don't see 'em or hear 'em come in. But I look...
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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 American Library Association's First Novelist Award, and, in Great Britain, the Mind Book of the Year Award. Push was named by the Village Voiceand 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. About her most recent book of poetry Poet's and Writer's Magazine wrote, "With her soul on the line in each verse, her latest collection, Black Wings & Blind Angels, retains Sapphire's incendiary power to win hearts and singe minds."
 
Sapphire's work has appeared in The New YorkerThe New York Times MagazineThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Black ScholarSpin, andBomb. In February of 2007 Arizona State University presented PUSHing Boundaries, PUSHing Art: A Symposium on the Works of Sapphire. Sapphire's work has been translated into eleven languages and has been adapted for stage in the United States and Europe. Precious, the film adaption of her novel, recently won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Awards in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance (2009).



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