The Kid: A Kind of Flawed Masterpiece

BlogHer Review

I finished reading The Kid by Sapphire a few days ago.  I've thought a lot about it, and I've decided that it's kind of a masterpiece.

In the beginning of the book, Abdul narrates his story from the point of view of a nine year old boy who has recently lost his mother.  He is confused and emotionally disturbed, choosing to believe that his mother is alive and is speaking to him in his mind.  This section of the story endears Abdul to the reader, allowing us to fully understand that he is a little boy who has nothing.  There is no one to protect him, so he finds ways to protect himself.

As he grows, the voice of the character matures.  Abdul suffers terribly in the years after his mother's death, moving between a series of foster homes and eventually being assigned a bed in a Catholic boarding house for boys.  His narrative becomes somewhat blurred around the time he turns thirteen.  He speaks about abuses committed against him, as well as instances where he perpetrates abuses, in a dissociative manner, often expressing the horrors as though they were happening in a dream.  

This section of The Kid was raw and distressing.  It was, quite honestly, difficult to read; not because the story wasn't compelling, though.  It was intense and intensely compelling.  It was simply hard to experience a sympathetic protagonist, who we have learned is justified in being dysfunctional, but who is also committing unspeakable crimes against other people.  His offenses are particularly disturbing because they are carried out against children.  This is the part of the book that blew my mind.  I hated the things Abdul was doing, but I understood that he was acting out based on his history.  I was moved to points of sickness, almost, being inside the head of someone who is so badly damaged.

We all understand that, sometimes when people are badly abused, despite the fact that they hate the abuse and want to distance themselves from their painful memories, they end up becoming abusers, themselves.  We have all heard of this phenomenon.  We understand it on a logistical level, we can accept it as a statistic. Sapphire's remarkable second novel allows us to actually experience it.  While I was reading this part of the book, I kept thinking about all of the other bloggers who were reading it with me, wondering if they felt like they were reading something that was changing their lives.  That's how I felt.  I felt like, although it was difficult and distasteful and challenging to process, The Kid was also an outstandingly important literary achievement that was forever changing the way I saw things.

Unfortunately, as the book progressed, it lost some of its momentum.  After Abdul is kicked out of the Catholic Academy, he meets his Grandmother and learns about her life.  Much of his interaction with his Grandmother is narrated by her, and her point of view isn't nearly as riveting as Abdul's.  Also, as he gets older, his experiences become less relateable.  As a child, he was lost and hurting and fighting for his life, and I was able to connect to those primal feelings and emotions.  As a young man though, he becomes a dancer and is involved with a troupe of performance artists who become, as much as they are able, his friends.  The dancers live in a city loft and are youthful, passionate and edgy and they come across kind of like the 80's television show Fame.  I understood that Sapphire was creating a place in the world where Abdul could survive, but it just wasn't very believable or interesting, for me.

By the end of the story, Abdul is being drugged and restrained and has lost contact with reality.  His voice is murky and confused.  He slips in and out of consciousness and we, as readers, are unsure about whether the things he is describing are taking place in reality or only in his mind.  Much like the way Abdul loses contact with his sanity, we lose touch with our connection with him, barely recognizing the little boy we empathized with so deeply at the beginning of the story.

It is a shame that the second half of the book wasn't nearly as compelling as the first.  It is a shame that so much of story was told in a point of view other than Abdul's.  It would also be totally unfair to classify this book as a failure based on its flaws.  Considering the entire story, the way it unfolded and how it manipulated my thoughts and feelings, The Kid was a singular and life changing experience.  I have never before been sympathetic with an abuser.  I have never had insight like this into the ways societal ignorance, pathological, generational abuse and emotional and spiritual poverty might actually affect someone.  It wasn't perfect by any means and at times it was even painful to read, but The Kid was a powerful, unique and revelatory book worth experiencing.

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