Monday, November 16, 2009

From Book to Film: Push to Precious

She say, "Write." I tell her, "I am tired. Fuck you!" I scream, "You don't know nuffin' what I been through!" I scream at Ms Rain. I never do that before. Class look shock. I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I'm made a fool of myself on top of everything else. "Open your notebook Precious." "I'm tired," I says. She says, "I know you are but you can't stop now Precious, you gotta push." And I do.
[pg 97]

by Sapphire
Knopf, 1996
Fiction; 192 pgs

Book Source: Paid for with my own hard earned cash.
Rating: * (Outstanding)

Several months ago I was approached by a coworker and asked if I had read Sapphire's Push. She had seen a trailer of the upcoming movie and knew she just had to see it. When she discovered it was based on a book, she thought of me.

Push is not one of those novels that will appeal to everyone. It may offend some. It is a book that will drag out the reader's darker emotions: anger and sadness. It did for me, anyway. I read this book with tears in my eyes. I had a few choice names for the mother and father. My heart ached for Precious Jones. No child should have to endure what she did. No child. Ever. And yet it is also a story about hope and overcoming the odds. In that way, it is an inspirational novel.

My coworker insists that the novel is based on a true story, but I haven't been able to verify that. As far as I know, it is a work of fiction. However, before you take comfort in that, keep in mind that about 1 out of 4 girls in the U.S. are sexually abused (1 in 6 boys). Most sexual abuse occurs by someone close to the child, someone the child is supposed to trust. Precious' own story may be fiction, but many children throughout the world suffer in similarly every day. They endure not only sexual abuse but physical and emotional abuse as well. They fall through the cracks of our school systems, barely able to read and write, even by the time they are in their teens. I know. I've seen this first hand.

Sapphire tells the story using Precious' own voice, in Precious' vernacular. Words are spelled out phonetically, there are plenty of curse words, and certain phrases and concepts are repeated several times; while this might seem like it would be bothersome, it was not at all. If anything, the writing style gives voice to the character, putting the reader in her shoes if only for the span of the novel. It did not take long for me to fall into the rhythm of the story.

Precious is 16 years old at the start of the novel, pregnant with her second child. She had given birth to a daughter when she was only 12 years old. The father of her children is her own father, a man who has been raping her since she was a young child. She is extremely overweight and the butt of many jokes. Precious has a very limited world view, which is expanded through the course of the novel. All her life she has been alone, friendless and with hardly any support from others. Her mother is downright evil, beating her daughter regularly. I could not drum up an ounce of sympathy for Precious' mother. I don't think I was meant to.

Kicked out of junior high because she is pregnant, Precious is told she must attend an alternative school. It is there where she meets Blue Rain, an unorthodox teacher who draws Precious and her classmates out. For the first time in her life, Precious feels like she belongs somewhere. She connects with her classmates and teacher. She experiences the kindness of others, something completely foreign to her. She also comes to realize she is not alone.

Precious is one of those characters I wish I could reach into the novel and hug, reassuring her that she is beautiful and smart, and that she doesn't deserve the abuse she has suffered. She is courageous and good at heart. She thinks so little of herself and yet there is a spark deep inside her that keeps her going. She isn't completely without self-confidence, though it is extremely fragile. She craves praise and eats it up when it is offered. Reading the stories of her classmates, I felt the same way about them. Each of them also had suffered much in their short lives, enduring pain and loss that no child should have to endure.

Blue Rain realizes right away that the young women in her class need to learn to believe in themselves. She could easily stick to the curriculum and prepare them for the GED. She wants to do more than that for them, though.

Precious can barely read or write at the start of the book, and, as the novel progresses, the reader can see the growth she makes in the narrative. While this novel is a horror story in some respects, it is also an inspirational one. My heart broke for Precious time and time again. It also swelled at her successes, even the smallest of ones. Push is no fairy tale. There is no miraculous happy ending. Everything does not turn out perfectly in the end. What there is, however, is hope.

I couldn't help but think of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye as I read Push. Many of the same themes run through both novels. The Color Purple by Alice Walker also came to mind which turned out to be quite fitting given the novel is referenced frequently. Precious identifies with Celcie from The Color Purple.

I think it is important not to overlook the cultural aspects of the novel. Precious is a black young woman, living in the Bronx with her mother who is collecting welfare. Discrimination is nothing new to her. She does not trust the authorities nor most white people. She spends much of her time wishing she was lighter skinned and thinner. What happened to her would not have happened had she been white, she reasons. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when she attends her first Survivors of Incest Anonymous meeting. She walks in feeling alone, as if no one in the room will be able to identify with her or understand the horrors she has suffered. She walks out with the realization that she is far from alone and that what happened to her could have happened to anyone, regardless of race, size or economic background. Child abuse has no boundaries when it comes to culture. It affects us all regardless.

Push is one of those novels I can talk about forever if given the chance. I have given you a small taste of it here and hope you will give it a try. And if you are up for it, you might want to watch the movie too.

Movies based on books are rarely as good as their predecessors. We all know that. Some of you may avoid watching movies based on books you have read for that very reason. Others, like me, run to the movie theater (or the Netflix website) to see how those movies turned out.

Because of a summer movie with the same title, Push became Precious when it hit movie theaters. I couldn't wait the couple of days it would take for the movie to appear in a theater closer to my town, and so I dragged my husband to Los Angeles so we could see it at the ArcLight in Hollywood, where it opened its first weekend in limited release.

I have already talked at length about the book and so will not do so again while talking about the movie. All I really have to say is wow. Precious is quite a movie. The rave reviews you hear about Mo'Nique serving up an Oscar worthy performance as the mother is true. It was raw and oh so real. The final scene with Mo'Nique in the film is especially gut wrenching. Gabourey Sidibe who played Precious was outstanding in performance too. She had the same edge as the character in the novel, the same heart, and won me over just as quickly. I had been a little worried about the dream sequences going into the movie, but my concerns were unwarranted. While they were a bit more of a spectacle in the movie than they had been in the book, they were well placed and definitely worthwhile.

The movie differs from the book in a few ways, including the ending--although the overall feel of the two were much the same. I really don't feel pointing out the differences matters as a result. I think the only complaint I have about the movie is that I wish I'd gotten a little deeper look at Precious' classmates. I understand, though, the decision not to go that route. Movies have time limits and not every detail from a book can make it onto the big screen.

The movie enriched my appreciation for the book and vice versa. Just as in the book, I watched Precious grow from victim to survivor. While her overall story is terribly sad, her courage and hope make her an inspiration.

Movie: Precious (2009)
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Lee Daniels
Written By: Geoffrey Fletcher (screenplay) & Sapphire (novel)
Rating: 4 Bags of Popcorn

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I read this novel a while back for a course in adolescent lit, and it was quite the conversation starter. We had no shortage of discussion material that week, and I've never forgotten Precious. I haven't see the movie yet, so I'm glad to see you reviewing it. I look forward to giving it a try--especially now that I know it's an enriching type of experience and not too sensational.

  2. I hadn't even heard of the book until the movie came out, but they have my attention now. I'm not sure if it is based on a specific true story, but you know there are countless situations out there that are just like this one. I'd love to see this movie, but I rarely get to see new ones that aren't kid friendly. Netflix, perhaps.

  3. Andi - I can see this book making a good one for a class. A couple of my coworkers were planning to see the movie yesterday and I'm looking forward to discussing the movie and book with them (they both read the book last week).

    I didn't think it was sensational at all. It wasn't overly graphic. It's an important story that I think deserves to be told, and I think they movie people did a good job with it overall.

    Sandy - It is hard to see movies like this when you have young children. One of my coworkers was going to take her 14 year old daughter to see it yesterday, which I think is appropriate. I can imagine some parents not wanting their teens to see this, but it could also be a great tool to use to open the subject up about child abuse and other topics that affect our youth.

    You're right, the story itself may not be true, but the experiences that Precious went through are very real. I am always cautious about reading books like this if only because it's too close to my every day reality (through work--and who wants to deal with such topics away from work too?), but occasionally a book will stand out that I just have to read. This is one of them.

  4. You did a much better job reviewing this novel than I did! It was so heartbreaking for me, I just didn't know where to start. While I was reading I felt that overwhelmingly it *must* be a true story, like your friend said. But it is probably just true in the same way many realistic novels are - if it didn't happen quite like this, something close to it did. It might not have happened to a girl named Precious, but it is still happening. Everyone should be required to read this book.

  5. I so want to read this book, but honestly I don't know if I can. I read "The Bluest Eye" a few years ago and I was broken-hearted for weeks. I do think stories like "Push" do need to be told and read. I just need to get the guts to actually do so. Thanks for this excellent review.

  6. Oh my gosh! I cried through your review so there's no telling what I'd do through the book or the movie. I saw Gabourey Sidibe interviewed and both she and the movie look outstanding. I really want to see the movie, but I'm sure I'll need a whole box of tissues to make it through it.

  7. The book and movie are both on my radar thanks to your wonderful words!

  8. This sounds like a good one, but possibly very tough to read. I probably check it out eventually. Thanks for the great review Wendy!

  9. I flipped through the book at Borders a couple of weeks ago, and I'm not sure I'm up to it at this point. I'm not sure I'm ready to be that disturbed. However, your through discussion and strong praise of the book (and the movie) both carry a lot of weight with me, and I think this is going to stay on my radar for a while now.
    Thanks for the reviews, Wendy!

  10. I hadn't heard of this one yet. I'm currently reading Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan and probably won't be up for another book on this kind of topic for awhile, but I did make a note of it. Thanks for the review of both the book and movie, Wendy!

  11. I hadn't heard of this too. It sounds like a powerful read and thanks to your lovely review, I'll have to look out for this book. :)

  12. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I read the book when it came out over ten years ago and I thought it was incredibly powerful. I'm glad it finally made it to the screen and I'm sure I'll see it eventually. Thanks for writing about it!

  13. What a fantastic review you wrote! Now, I definitely have to see the movie.

    My copy of the book has been making its way around our school to the other teachers and it's been interesting talking with them about it.

    I caught half of an interview with Sapphire and I think I heard her say that the book is based on a real girl. I was disappointed not to hear the whole thing.

  14. What a powerful quote you started us out with! Wow. I am inspired by stories of teachers who inspire their students. That my offset my immediate reaction to horror at speaking/spelling in the vernacular, being the grammatical fanaticist that I am. Or, long to be. ;)

  15. Where have I been? I'd never even heard of the movie, and I've only seen the book mentioned a few times. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

  16. This is definitely on my radar now, Wendy! I like the story and I want to read it. Thanks for the review!

  17. I look forward to reading the book and then seeing the movie. Based on the trailer and your review, it is a powerful film!

  18. This definitely sounds like a difficult read, but probably really worth it. I'd like to the see the movie, too! BTW, I love the Arclight, don't you? I'm spoiled after buying tickets online and not having to wait in line. Also you can get a decent meal in the cafe :)

  19. I wondered if Push/Precious was based on a true story & my husband and I talked about it. We realized that it actually doesn't matter because there are too many stories similiar to Precious' story across the country and the world.
    I imagine the book is a little raw and harsh but that;'s the way it is. I will read this book (soon, too, because I'd like to talk to you about it!) but I am a little afraid of it because, as inspiring as Precious is, I know her story is also heart-breaking and bewildering. No matter how many times you hear how awful the circumstances are that some people, some children live in, it still surprises and shocks you the next time. Well, me anyway!

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I'm exhausted or I would write more. But I'll be in touch soon!

  20. This was wonderful to read, Wendy! I read the novel years ago, probably just when it first came out, so my recollection of it is very fuzzy but I do know that at the time it was very powerful. I really want to see the movie and am glad to hear it's gotten such good reviews.

  21. What a wonderful post! I had no idea Precious was based on a book, but now I want to read and watch them both :)

  22. I think the movie may have a good shot at a couple of Oscars. I'm glad you liked the book so much!

  23. I have heard about this movie ever since Oprah Winfrey mention it. I never realized there a book base on that movie. I will have to check out the book and read it. But I am looking forward to seeing the movie, it sure sound like an emotional powerful movie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts/review on this :)

  24. Wow, what a wonderful review! I'm glad you are out of your blogging slog (even though I completely understand hibernating for a while) because this post is so thorough and thoughtful. I am hoping to see this movie over Thanksgiving. It sounds so moving.

  25. Thanks for the insightful review of Push and Precious. I had been hearing some of the buzz but didn't know what it was all about. Your review really helped me! What a harrowing tale of undeniable power ... I'm not sure I'm up for it.

  26. Lu - Thank you, Lu. Push really was a hard book to review, I agree. Like you, I found the story to be so heartbreaking. And it kept getting worse for dear Precious.

    I definitely think this book would be a great one to read for a class. While the story itself is worthy of discussion, I think Sapphire's writing is worth exploring as well. I could see the poet coming out many times throughout the book.

    J.S. - Thank you, J.S. Books like this are so difficult, especially when you consider that there are children going through all that Precious went through. I had the same reaction to The Bluest Eye when I read it. In both cases, it took me awhile before I was ready to read something else.

    Kathy - If you do see the movie or read the book, definitely take plenty of tissue with you.

    Staci - Thanks, Staci!

    Kristie - Thank you, Kristie. It was a tough read, but very worth it. My copy of the book is making the rounds in my office right now. Everyone wants to read it. :-)

    Florinda - I'm really picky about books like this given my job, but occasionally I come across one I just have to read. This was one of those books for me. It is very disturbing and I imagine it will be one of those a person has to read while in the right mindset.

    Terri - Heavy books like this and the one you are reading can be exhausting, can't they? Lighter fare is definitely in order!

    Melody - It is a powerful book, and well worth reading.

  27. Marie - This book definitely had slipped under my radar. I am glad my coworker asked me about it and encouraged me to read it.

    Linda - Thank you. I'll be curious to know what you think of the movie when you see it, Linda.

    My copy's making the rounds at my office too.

    Thank you for the info about the author interview and the book being based on a real person. I'll have to see if I can find it somewhere online.

    Bellezza - I had about four quotes I was considering using, but I liked that one the best. Plus it ties into the title.

    I really liked Precious' teacher and the care and attention she took with her students.

    It took me a second to get used to the vernacular when I first began reading Push, but I soon stopped noticing. At some point though, I realized just how much the writing had improved--Precious was learning and her writing got better as a result. I thought that was a great touch.

    Jill (Softdrink) - I might not have noticed this one had my coworker not mentioned it to me this past summer. Then I began seeing and hearing about it just about everywhere. It's like suddenly noticing everyone's driving your new car.

    Alice - I hope you will like it if you read it, Alice!

    Kathleen - It is powerful and definitely worth reading and watching.

    Tracy - Oh yes! I love the ArcLight. I like that you can pick your exact seats. :-) I just wish it wasn't so far away . . .

    Amy (7 Tails) - Thank you. "Raw" is a good descriptor for the book. It definitely is that. Precious' story is heartbreaking--she had such a difficult life. She's such an amazing character though. Despite it all, she somehow manages to keep going.

  28. Yvonne - Thank you!

    Iliana - Thank you. I hope you are able to see the movie. I'd love to know what you think.

    Stacy - I knew I had to read the book when my friend mentioned the movie was based on a book. I'm so glad I did.

    Jen - I sure hope so! Mo'Nique especially was awesome in the film--she does evil well.

    Julia - Oprah's been really pushing this movie, hasn't she? I saw her interview with Mo'Nique and Gabby earlier this month.

    Aarti - Thank you. I actually had most of this post written right after I finished reading the book last month, so it fell into the pre-slog period. :-) I just added in my thoughts about the movie after I'd seen it.

    I hope you like the movie when you see it!

    Frances Hunter - Thank you for your kind words! I always worry when there's so much buzz about a movie or book that it won't live up to all that praise. In this case though, it did. At least I think so.

  29. Yes, Oprah have :) You know I find it amazing how Mo'Nique can act. I mean I have not see the movie yet but I've heard many said Mo'Nique play "evil" so well. But in real life she is the most sweetest, caring and funny person I've ever seen.

  30. I haven't read the book yet but I loved the movie. I saw it before it was released, at the Vancouver International Film Festival. It has packed audiences and rave reviews.

    As soon as I got home after viewing it, I added Push to my TBR.

  31. Julia - I really am not that familiar with Mo'Nique, other than the brief interview I saw her in with Oprah. She does sound like a nice person. Nothing like her character in Precious. :-)

    Teddy - It is such a good movie. Lucky you getting to see it early! I hope you will enjoy the book when you get to it.


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