The Kid: When No One Pushes
My thoughts about this book, The Kid by Sapphire, are nearly as jumbled as the story itself. I’m torn as to whether this is a book I would never ask someone else to read or if it’s one we should all read in order to realize what small kindnesses can do in this world. This book made me think about my friends who volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, my friends who foster kids and friends who adopt. This book has made me wonder how many moments it takes to truly impact a child’s life and yet it’s also made me wish I never read any of it so that I wouldn’t be so worried about Abdul and others like him.
We meet Abdul just after his mom’s death. It becomes clear almost immediately that he doesn’t fully comprehend what her death means and, like most nine year olds, he doesn’t grasp the finality of it. His Aunt Rita has him in her care and seems to be concerned with his well-being, but then she isn’t. As the book unfolds, we repeatedly see all that he has lost in his mom: she obviously worked hard to bring a richness to his life. Most of what she gave him was not through money but through experience. At nine, he has been to museums, concerts and libraries where his mom introduced him to great thinkers, musicians and writers. That foundation is his lifeline in the years that follow and his subconscious knowledge that there is more than this to life continually propels him to simply keep trying.
The more we learn about the course of Abdul’s life, the more we realize just how far Abdul’s mom, Precious, pulled herself out of the muck and mire of her seriously screwed up family. Abdul eventually learns about generations upon generations (albeit really close together in age) of abuse, neglect and despondence. On a larger scale, I wonder how generations of families are patterned to want so little for themselves, yet then spontaneously produce one person who manages to remove herself from the pattern. Certainly Precious did that and passed along that tenacity to her son, Abdul. Without her guidance, however, Abdul is caught in the quagmire, struggling between his family’s predisposition toward despair and his mother’s intense foundation toward a better life.
This story is really that of a young man whose life hangs in the balance between a proverbial swamp and a promised land and it shows us what one small thing can do to a person who sits in the doldrums of life, waiting to be swept one way or the other. At any point, from the moment Rita chooses to turn Abdul over to Child Protective Services until the moment Dr. See sends him on his way, a single person who truly worked to help him could have changed the trajectory of his life. Certainly there were some along the way who made half-hearted attempts, but there were far more who just didn’t. They didn’t really see him, they didn’t really care about him enough to put in more than passing effort. Equally, without those small kindnesses and meager attempts (from teachers, nurses, CPS workers and, later on, peers) Abdul certainly would have fallen into the abyss.
Unlike the movie, Precious, which ultimately gave us a feeling that happiness can come to those who work hard, there is nothing comforting about this book; it’s simply a story whose primary character is haunting, inspiring and possibly far too realistic. It makes me reflect on my friends who contribute to society through positive organizations and fostering; have I witnessed them extending a lifeline and not even realized it? Do we ever know the impact of small kindnesses? What about small hurts? I also think about my own kids, who are still young, and about what a different set of circumstances they will face in life, simply by virtue of the family into which they were born. But mostly I think about Abdul, wondering how it all turns out for him, wishing some sort of respite for him and vowing that if I ever encounter someone like him, I will be one who tries to provide a push in the right direction.