The Kid: An Uncomfortable, But Important, Sociological Read
Biology or behavior? Genetics or child-rearing? Sociology or psychology?
As mothers, as women, as human beings and members of society, we all, at some point, ponder whether it's our DNA or our upbringing that shapes who we really are.
In the same vein, Sapphire's new book, The Kid, takes us through the stream-of-consciousness of Abdul, a kid born into a life rife with a typical set of circumstances that seem to set young boys of color on a path of self-destruction - a mother who's died of AIDS, an absent father, and a social and welfare system that's largely failed him, thanks to a fair bit of human error and illegal goings-on.
Not to mention the fact that he's a victim of violence at the young age of 9, right after his mother's death, when he's placed in a foster home, leaving him with hearing loss, only to then be placed in a Catholic orphanage where he's molested by two priests.
There, he learns, in essence, to find control and power through his own sexual violence, only to be cast aside when he endangers the priest's cover-up.
Then, he finds out he's not totally an orphan – his sick great-grandmother, Toosie, becomes his guardian and regales Abdul and the reader with a sickening tale of her own rape at the age of 10, leading her to bear Abdul's grandmother and resulting lineage, plus her earlier life as a high-end prostitute at a brothel in Harlem.
Abdul is disturbed and boggled by Toosie's tale, and in his own violent language, he, too, ponders the very issue the reader keeps debating throughout The Kid: Nature versus nurture.
Mixed in with Abdul's obvious intelligence and amazingly still-present, 13-year-old innocence, the reader asks right along with the teen if he was destined to fail all along.
The Kid is a gritty tale. It's a story that we fear – because it's so ugly, because it's so unfortunate, and because, for some kid out there, it's probably so true.
The protagonist is like every real-life man he's modeled after – he's not terribly likeable; after all, he's an opportunist who models and acts out his own abuses on others.
But, at the same time, he's also endearing. He's smart as a whip; he quotes Shakespeare. And he strives to succeed at the one passion – dance - he's gained as a young adolescent doing nothing more than trying to survive in a world that isn't designed for him to make it into adulthood. Or at least not successfully.
He's hard to pity but employs empathy. He's repulsive in his actions, but simultaneously, he provokes a strong maternal reaction in readers.
We want to help him; we want to fight for him; at the very least, we want to reach out and hug him; tell him that what's happened to him isn't fair.
Abdul makes us think of every mug shot we've seen in the metro section, of every young kid we see standing on the side of the road in the middle of a school day.
And, because he is all those characters – all those members of society we'd rather not acknowledge because they make us so uncomfortable – we feel ashamed, but we also feel an urge to help him, to stop him from continuing down such a destructive path, even if a part of us feels like our efforts would be futile.
Nature versus nurture.
Was it something that happened to Abdul or was it something that was inside him all along?
In other words, could we have stopped it? Or was his life inevitable?
The Kid is hard to read. It's ugly and real. But it's also honest.
Sapphire doesn't cut corners; she doesn't mask the stomach-churning life that kids like Abdul experience.
And for that reason, we all need to read The Kid. Because whether or not we grew up like Abdul, somewhere before, we've seen him.
In a mug shot in the newspaper. On a street corner during the middle of a school day.
And whether or not we blame nature versus nurture, we need to know those kids exist, and we need to find out what we can do to make sure they don't follow in down the path laid out in Sapphire's The Kid.
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