The Kid -- A Very Hard Read

BlogHer Review

The Kid by Sapphire was one of the hardest books I've ever read. Hard to stomach, hard to make sense of (which effect was deliberately created by the author in a very effective way) and hard simply to read some of the dialects she's written entire segments of the story in (which wasn't as effective in the storytelling). Would I recommend it? Cautiously, to select people -- yes.

The book is powerful, and raw, and so filled with authentic emotion that it's hard to remember it was written by a middle-aged woman, not a teenaged boy. When I was working as a teen librarian in Queens, Push was one of the most requested books we owned. Its horrors spoke to people who felt voiceless themselves, and I suspect there is a group of people out there who might similarly find their voices in The Kid. But many people will simply find themselves awash in the horror. I wouldn't recommend this to my mom. Or my reading group. I wouldn't read it at the beach. I didn't read it before going to sleep, for fear of nightmares. Entertaining reading, this was not.

But anyone who's read Sapphire knows how she can take her readers into darkness and just abandon them there for much of the book, only letting them surface again to their own reality at the end. She's an incredible writer, and instead of abandoning me in the darkness this book felt like it was holding me down in it. I'm trying not to give much away about the storyline, but suffice it to say that bad things happen to Abdul -- the son of Precious from Push -- and the book is about both the bad things that happen to him and the bad things he turns around and makes happen.

I had a few problems with the book. The one that really stood out and came close to ruining the story for me was that every important character in the book was victimized. Every. Single. One. The social worker who tries to help him is the only adult in the story who behaves in a responsible manner, and it's obvious she isn't going to last long at her job because she cares "too much". Also, there were two extended sequences detailing the child abuse suffered by Abdul's great-grandmother, and then by his girlfriend. Both felt gratuitous, as if they were included just to pile on some more horror. And honestly, the story didn't need any more horror than was being described in the linear timeline. The flashbacks were distracting in their detail, though as a writer I understood the impulse to give these broken people their backstory too as it related to the cycle of abuse, self-protection, and apathy.

Because of her storytelling ability, the book was engrossing -- as disturbing as the protagonist's behavior was, the author managed to create an almost-sympathetic character who was monstrous. And given the graphic depiction of what was done to him, what he became, that's astonishingly good writing. I wanted things to be OK for him, even while I knew they simply couldn't be OK. Not ever.

Which was astonishingly upsetting.

To have to watch the main character make the wrong choice time after time was heartbreaking.

To watch the adults responsible for his well-being do horrible things (or do nothing at all when they should have ACTED) through carelessness, maliciousness, or just pure evil was galvanizing. Made me want to reform the child welfare system. Write letters to senators. Adopt foster children.

It also made me want to cry. A lot.

A hard read. But a worthwhile book, an important book in a lot of ways.

But now I'm going to go back to my previously scheduled summertime reading for a while. And then, maybe, once I've recovered a bit, I'll go write some letters.

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