The Kid: The Most Important Book I Will Read All Year
By Rita Arens on August 23, 2011
It was a real struggle for me to read Sapphire's The Kid -- not because the writing was bad, not at all, the writing, in fact, is incredible -- but because the subject matter was so hard, so cruel, and so real. It was knowing that it was real -- that some kids really endure this type of abandonment and abuse -- that made me realize this may be the most important book I will read this year.
Here's why: As I processed what Abdul was going through and what it was doing to his psyche, I started to understand better why he did the things he did. It didn't make them right, but it made them human, understandable, perhaps, in the way that life, war, love, hate, lust are ... understandable.
This book wouldn't have been possible without Sapphire's voice. She started out as a poet, and the rhythm of her words permeated my brain until I was actually occasionally rocking in time to her meter as I read, unable to look away from the story as it unfolded. Even when I wanted to look away -- and there were many times I really wanted to not only look away but bury this book in the backyard.
But I didn't, and I didn't let myself look away, because -- as I told Sapphire when I met her at her reading in Kansas City recently -- this book made me a better person. It changed me. It is hard for me to grasp the cruelty of some people in this world -- especially to children -- and it's easy for me in my sheltered little life to pretend it doesn't happen. But it does. And people react to it in different ways. Stories aren't always meant to tie up in neat little bows. The best stories expose our humanity, confront us with situations that show all possible reactions and force us to question what we would have done, so that we can choose how we will react to life in the future.
Read, then, so we will make better choices than the characters in The Kid. That we will pause and consider what a person might have been through before we judge. That we, at least, will not see the world in black and white, because it is never, ever black and white -- which is the message I took away from The Kid, a story in which the main character never really even knew his name, never knew if he was crazy or sane, never knew who his father was, never knew who was related to him, never knew anything for sure except that pancakes tasted good and dancing was a release and that he could teach himself to do the splits with practice and discipline. There is art here, and pain, and fear around every corner. And through it all, Abdul keeps on. I wonder where he is now.
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