Some books create a wonderful place or adventure to escape to, something that is a refreshing change from real life. The Kid is just the opposite. It is a novel that is very much rooted in a part of reality that most people would rather not think about. There are few stories as harrowing and uncomfortable as The Kid. The story picks up several years after the end of Push, Sapphire’s novel that would later become the basis of the movie Precious.
Push is the story of Clarice Precious Jones, a teenage girl living in New York City in the 1980s who struggles to become literate, while dealing with poverty, abusive parents, rape, two pregnancies at a young age, and obesity. And as the story goes on, she faces even more problems. The Kid is a follow up to Push. It follows the life of Abdul “˜J.J.’ Jones, the son Precious had at 16.
At the end of Push, we know that Precious has HIV, but her children do not. Because the novel is set in the late 1980s and Precious is very poor, we know that such a diagnosis would almost certainly be a death sentence.
The first few pages of The Kid involve nine-year-old Abdul sitting next to his dying mother in the hospital, and going to her funeral a few days later. Rita, a classmate Precious bonded with in her literacy class, is taking care of Abdul temporarily. The reader views everything through Abdul, and through him we learn so much about Precious. As he goes though the day of his mother’s funeral, there are many flashbacks to memories with Precious that give a glimpse into her life. We know that she continued her education, counseled others, and was loved by a lot of people. But perhaps most importantly, we know that she was a good mother. She managed to break the cycle of abuse and raised Abdul with kindness and love and stressed the importance of learning and education.
Now, with the story just beginning, she is gone. Abdul ends up in a string of terrible group homes. The good life Precious created for her child is gone, and a much more grim one has replaced it.
Sexual abuse is just as much a part of this book as it was in Push. There are many graphic scenes involving sexual abuse and rape of children as well as underage prostitution. This book is harrowing from beginning to end, and there are no breaks from the real life horrors depicted in Abdul’s story. When he is being abused, the story is narrated in a confused, dreamlike way. It can be tricky to understand what exactly is happening, because Abdul seems to detach from what is going on in order to cope.
At this point, I began to wonder if The Kid was just going to be another story exactly like Push. Would I have to read the next three hundred pages of Abdul being attacked and violated and kicked when he’s already down? Instead, the story delves into an even more uncomfortable plot line.
Abdul (or J.J., as he begins to call himself) becomes the abuser, not just the victim. He doesn’t stop being a victim at all, but he has also turned the abuse he has experienced on to other children. Precious wasn’t an angel, but she was clearly the victim of an unfair life, and it’s easy to love her because of her hope and determination.
Abdul is not a character that is easy to like. He is twisted with anger and so detached from himself that he is incapable of seeing or caring about the horrible things he does to others. He is hateful, venomous and hardened. This is not the story of an underdog rising against the odds to become something great. This is the story of the cycle of abuse. It shows how the sweet and intelligent boy that lost his mother at nine quickly learns to cope with a sudden flood of horrors in his new life as an orphan. Abdul becomes so disconnected with reality that the narrative can be confusing. At many points in the book it is unclear if what is happening is a dream or reality. The reader must view the story from inside Abdul’s mind, and it is a terrifying place to be.
In his mind, Abdul can justify what he does because it has also been done to him. He seems incapable of understanding when his sexual advances are not welcome, and struggles to internally justify having sex with men and boys while also identifying as straight and harboring a lot of hate for gay men.
After finishing the book, I spent a lot of time trying to understand it. Why was this story told? What can anyone take away from this book other than a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach?
Ultimately, I think The Kid is a story that challenges the way we sort people into neat little groups. Abdul isn’t just a victim or a villain. He is both, and he is messy. He isn’t a victim that people will hold up as a martyr or a saint. He also isn’t just some monster that is beyond humanity. Not if you read his story and see inside his mind.
The Kid isn’t an easy read, and for anyone with triggers related to sexual abuse or rape, it might be best to avoid it completely. If you’re like me, you might not be able to finish reading it without taking long breaks from the book. However, for those who who dare to read it: it will make you uncomfortable, sick and horrified. But it will also make you think, and much like Sapphire’s earlier novel Push, it will force you to look at something that is very much rooted in reality, something that most people would rather refuse to acknowledge, because there is no easy answer or solution.