The Kid: Destined to Damage

BlogHer Review
I hated every minute of reading this book. But I think I was supposed to hate it. The Kid by Sapphire is the follow up novel to her brutal classic, Push. Push told the story of Precious Jones, a young severely abused obese girl who turns her life around despite enormous hurdles. I had the same visceral reaction reading Push a few years ago and The Kid follows in that same vein. It tells the story of Precious’ son, nine year old Abdul “J.J.” Jones. The book opens, Precious has died of an HIV related illness and Abdul is left alone. No family, no friends, no one -- shipped off to a foster home, brutally raped and abused by a fellow foster child, dumped in a Catholic orphanage and systematically abused by the priests at the orphanage for the next four years. From an abandoned innocent nine year old, Abdul is transformed into a tall, beautiful, damaged predator.

While I said I hated every minute of reading this book, I meant that. But it’s not the writing I find fault with in any way. The writing is flawless, skillful and the minute the book begins in Abdul’s voice, I am committed. I believe that I am in the head of a lonely little boy, then a disturbed teen rapist, then a gifted but mentally ill young dancer. Sapphire does such an immaculate job sinking the reader into Abdul’s head that that is the exact reason why I hated reading this novel. I felt consumed by Abdul’s suffering, his struggles, the violent dream like trances he seems to fall into, his ability to commit hideous crimes and deny them in his own head, his tenacity and his strength but at the same time I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand him. I couldn’t trust his narration. He is jumpy and easily distracted, aggressive, powerful, whip smart and dangerous. And while I felt like Sapphire gave very clear reasons why Abdul is the person he is, from a combination of family history and consistent violent degradation, I still couldn’t stand being in his head. I read this book so quickly because I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to escape his head and his emotions and his pain. Just as Abdul wanted to escape himself. And couldn’t, or could only through dance.

And this is exactly what powerful books can do, they plunge the reader so deeply into a character’s head, that it hurts. Powerful books like Push and The Kid force the reader, if you can get past the sexual violence, language and abuse, to feel so much empathy for another person (character) that it’s painful. While I may have hated every minute of reading this book, there was a purpose to it for me. I read these types of stories because they unsettle, they remind, they transport, they educate and they teach empathy. But these lessons don’t make for easy reads. This is not a book I would read a second time. This is a book that I will pass from friend to friend, encouraging them to read it because they should, but not because they will enjoy it. To read it out of obligation to the thousands and thousands of children in our foster care system and the thousands and thousands of men and women in prisons and mental hospitals. Read it to have a better understanding of how and why people make the decisions they do and end up where they do, read it because as you sit in your clean, safe home, a little boy somewhere is in jeopardy. And you should care about that. Even if it hurts.

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