The Kid: Where Was Sapphire's Editor?
When I read Push several years ago, I couldn't put it down. I spent an entire afternoon glued to the couch, devouring Precious' story. It was sad, it was hopeful, and it was honest. So I had extremely high hopes for Sapphire's recent follow-up, The Kid. But instead, I found myself very, very disappointed.
The book begins with Precious, Push’s unlikely heroine, dying from AIDS. Her 9-year-old son, Abdul, is placed into foster care shortly after attending his mother’s funeral. Abdul is an immediately sympathetic figure. When he arrives at his new foster home and realizes that he will never see most of his possessions again (most notably his beloved books), my heart sank with disappointment right along with him. And when he meets his foster mother, a woman who is openly contemptuous of children, I felt even sadder for him. His time at the foster home is short. Not long after he arrives, one of the other foster children attacks and rapes him. Abdul’s voice is so authentic through this point that even when it comes to light that Abdul has stabbed one of his foster mother’s dogs to death in the aftermath of his attack, I couldn’t help but feel compassionate toward him.
However, my compassion and interest quickly waned.
As the story progresses, Abdul is placed into a series of unfortunate living situations, including his grandmother’s roach-infested apartment and a Catholic orphanage where he's abused by the priests. When he begins to rape little boys in the orphanage, I lose all sympathy for him. It’s not because he’s a rapist -- though that certainly doesn’t help -- but because there’s nothing redeeming about his personality. I feel horrible that the very people who were supposed to care for Abdul abused him instead, but nothing about him tempts me to excuse his own predatory behavior. In fact, I don’t even know much about his personality, other than that he’s angry! I found Lolita’s Humbert Humbert somehow infinitely relatable as well as despicable, rapist and all, so I tend to find fault with the writing here, not necessarily the character.
Honestly, I was bored by this book. I wasn't shocked or titillated or enlightened. I was just unbelievably bored. The Kid manages to be sensationalist without ever provoking a meaningful dialogue about, well, much of anything. About one-third of the book was just graphic descriptions of Abdul raping little boys, having sex, masturbating, beating people up, hurting himself, or fantasizing about those things. It was dull. Abdul’s story is written in stream of consciousness, leaving the reader to discern between reality and fantasy. But I didn’t care enough about the plot or the characters to spend much time doing that, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Sapphire may not have, either.
Myriad great works of literature prove that a loveable protagonist and a happy ending aren’t necessary, but The Kid isn’t one of them. I didn’t learn anything from Abdul or his plight. I just wish I could recoup the hours I spend reading about them.