The Kid: Art and Abuse
Sapphire’s writing is poetic and melodic, but the subject matter is difficult and will be uncomfortable for many readers. Even knowing beforehand that the book contained explicit sexual content, including abuse, there were times when I was upset by what I read. It was a difficult book for me to finish in its entirety.
Orphaned at nine years old, Abdul is shuffled through the foster system to a Catholic orphanage, terrorized and abused both by older children and the adults in whose charge he’s been left. Had he remained a victim, what happens to Abdul would be painful and heartbreaking, and I would have ached for his lost innocence.
However, most of Abdul’s abuse is shown to the reader in snippets and flashbacks and allusions; what is described in graphic, disturbing detail is the abuse that he inflicts on younger, smaller children – some of them very young and absolutely terrified.
That is the paradox in Sapphire’s novel. Knowing that Abdul’s abusive nature springs forth from his own abuse gives the reader a contextual background, but it still remains an ugly and painful fragment of his very being. It becomes clear that his own abuse has made it difficult for him to recognize the concept of a consensual sexual relationship; both emotional and physical pleasure and pain have been inflicted upon him for so long that he truly cannot differentiate his impulses from the physical rights of the people around him.
Abdul finds escape and solace in dance, a physically appropriate way in which to use his body to express emotion. When Sapphire describes Abdul’s dancing, and his feelings about dance, I found myself mesmerized by her language. In those moments, I see the artist and intelligent man struggling to emerge from a damaged and hurt young man, a boy in denial about some of his most repugnant moments. I fervently wished that he could have been allowed to mature in an environment free from abuse, but that is not the reality of his situation.
The Kid is, without a doubt, a powerful novel. Sapphire pushes both the abused and the abuser into the light, and that’s not necessarily comfortable. Is The Kid enjoyable? Not necessarily, but there are moments of beauty amongst the horror, and that may be enough for some readers.