The Kid is a Kaleidoscope of Emotion
“Like bits of colored glass arranged into oblivion”, a kaleidoscope becomes one of the treasured possessions Abdul Jones carries from place to place, and it also serves as a metaphor for his ever-changing and disturbing life.
The Kid opens to find Abdul at his mother’s funeral, shocked that he did not know his mother was ill, and even more frightened about where he is going and who is going to care for him. His first stop is in a foster home where he is victimized by an older foster child and hospitalized. Given the new persona and nickname J.J, he quickly moves on to be placed in a Catholic school, where he shines academically for several years, attracting the attention of the priests for his quick mind. The attention is a double edged sword, because not only do his teachers think J.J. is smart, they also find him an attractive sexual plaything, and the very clergy assigned to protect and teach him, instead lead him down a path where he not only becomes abused, he becomes an abuser himself.
Kicked out of the Catholic school, child services manages to track down a long lost relative, his great grandmother, and J.J. becomes Abdul again. His short stay with his grandmother in Harlem is one of the more powerful and graphic portions of this book, where he learns of her early life in Mississippi, her escape to New York, and her subsequent life as a prostitute. Abdul, sad and bewildered, thinks “this can’t be my life…I’ve fallen down a hole there is no bottom to…”
Abdul, realizing that he can only descend into madness with his grandmother, escapes his family and once again flies under the radar of agencies and school by living with his older dance teacher. There he takes refuge in his art, and starts to carve out a safe place for himself as a talented performer. Abdul finds kindred spirits in his fellow dancers and they make him feel he isn’t alone in the world, and for a moment, we see Abdul might rise to his potential and beat the odds that are stacked against him.
In a dizzying closing chapter, Abdul crashes and burns as he is unable to rise above the very forces that made him who he was. We are left feeling haunted and overwhelmed, not knowing if Abdul can ever overcome being the product of a broken system.
Sapphire’s The Kid might be off-putting and confusing for some readers for a couple of reasons. She’s very much a modernist writer in the style of Virginia Woolf, and Abdul’s story is written in a stream of consciousness style that some might find hard to follow. In weaving the broken threads of Abdul’s situation, I think that technique works well, as I truly felt his pain, confusion and despair as he reeled from one horrible situation to another. The book truly is a kaleidoscope of emotion, and I never knew what was coming next; I felt my heart racing as I turned the pages.