Sapphire's The Kid Is Not For The Faint Of Heart [SPOILERS]

BlogHer Review
Sapphire's novel, The Kid, (a follow up to Push) highlights the devastating effects of chronic sexual abuse and the loss of one's identity in the foster care system as seen through the eyes of a young boy/orphan turned aspiring dancer named Abdul. The novel is broken up into four books following Abdul at various points in his life -- age nine, thirteen, seventeen, and roughly nineteen.

When we are introduced to Abdul he has just lost his mother, Precious, to AIDS. He is in shock and denial. After her funeral, and a short stay with one of his mother’s friends, Abdul is placed into foster care. He becomes just another lost soul in the system almost immediately when the foster mother renames him JJ, essentially stripping him of his history and identity. Within moments of his arrival at the foster home, Abdul/JJ is viciously attacked and raped by another child, Batty Boy. The first book closes with his care being transferred over to a Catholic home for boys, St. Althaneus, and we as the readers find ourselves breathing a premature sigh of relief that Abdul has finally found a safe haven.

The second book opens four years later (age 13) with what may be the most disturbing scene in the book. In graphic detail we, as readers, witness Abdul/JJ's transformation from victim to perpetrator as he attacks and rapes Jaime, a roommate in the orphanage who is laying several beds down from him. He rationalizes his actions in his mind with everything from seeing himself as a great conqueror, to telling himself that he was helping Jaime, and finally, turning the tables by blaming Jaime for what he has done. In this moment, the compassion that we had felt for the poor little 9 year old victim Abdul/JJ, is replaced with disgust for the monster he has become at age 13. He has transformed into a violent sexual aggressor, and the reader is taken along for the sick and twisted ride that is his thought process, it is a ride that I found myself begging to get away from page after dark and disturbing page.

The rape of Jaime sets off the tone for the remainder of the book. One horrific scene after the next reveals Abdul/JJ abusing boys, priests abusing Abdul/JJ, Abdul/JJ selling himself in the park for money, and reaches its most upsetting point when Abdul/JJ rapes a five year old boy. Kicked out of the catholic orphanage where he has been living, Abdul/JJ is transferred into the care of his great grandmother, a woman who herself was the victim of abuse (raped and impregnated by ten, prostitute by age fifteen, witness to murder shortly thereafter.) Disgusted to be face to face with his own history, Abdul/JJ moves in with a dance instructor in Book 3, a gay man in his fifties/sixties, who allows him to stay in exchange for sex. Abdul/JJ reiterates with anger throughout the book that, even though he is participating in sexual behavior with this man (and many other males) that he is not gay. Interestingly enough, he "blames" each of his victims and condemns them for being gay, but denies being gay himself. This is not the only denial he claims throughout the book. He also denies his own wrongdoings in any of the rapes he perpetrates against others, and denies his history (that his mother was raped by her father who impregnated her with Abdul/JJ and gave her HIV) with a lie that he repeats to himself over and over "My mother died in a car accident. My father died in the war." At one point in the book he goes so far as to destroy all of his mother's journals as a means of keeping the truth from being traced back to him, and also writes his grandfather's name being listed as his father on his birth certificate off as being a mix up.

There is more to the third book. An aspiring dancer, a great deal of the book is about Abdul/JJ's attempts at reinventing himself as a professional dancer, as well as his romance with My Lai, a female member of his dance troupe. When it closes, Abdul (who no longer goes by JJ at this point) has settled down with My Lai, gotten a job, and is really up and coming in his dance career. We close out that chapter by learning that My Lai, who herself is adopted, was raped by her adoptive father, and Abdul gearing up for a huge dance performance.

Then we move onto the fourth book which, for me, was the weakest. Abdul is in a total state of panic. We don't know how old he is. Where he is. What is happening to him. The thought runs through the reader's mind that maybe his crimes have caught up with him, and he is on death row, but then we discover that he is actually in a mental institution and pharmacological trials are being done on him. At least that is what I think we have discovered because so much of this final book leaves you wondering what is truth, what is imagined, what is dreamed, that I found it hard to follow. Does Abdul really kill My Lai’s father? Does he really front as a prostitute just to beat and rob perverted men for approaching him? Did he really try to kill himself? Was it the attempt at killing himself that led to his being locked up? For me the discovery at the end that a case of mistaken identity led to him being incarcerated, tortured, and subjected to drug tests trials seemed a little far fetched and unbelievable. I know the groundwork was laid earlier, with him constantly changing his name, not having any papers, and looking older than his age, but in what state of mind would this angry fighter of a kid have allowed himself to be taken into a mental hospital this way? Sapphire lost me. It almost felt as if she was saying to herself, “Okay, how do I end this book?”

There were a few other scenes earlier in the book where something stopped feeling believable for me. Most notably was when Toosie was recounting her history as a prostitute. That scene was so engaging, and so revealing about how she had come to be who she was, how her daughter (the mother from Push) had come to become such a disgusting individual, and how this cycle of violence and sexual abuse traveled down through the generations, but then came the moment where Big Black (an albino midget pimp) raped Baumont (Toosie's lover and an employee of Big Black) as he lay dying, and honestly, to me, it just seemed a little over the top. Not that he would be violent. Not even in killing Betsy, but it seemed sort of like “is there anyone in this book who won’t be raped anally?” I also felt this way about My Lai telling the story about her father raping her. Sapphire would have you believe that everyone, everywhere, is abusive.

I don’t know that I have ever had a harder time reading a book. It’s not the writing, which was, for the most part, excellent. It was in the graphic and disturbing nature of the book. Often times I found myself feeling disgusted by what I had read, by what I had in essence witnessed this boy go through, and then do, and just feeling sick to my stomach by it. The graphic nature of this book is the reason that I don’t see myself ever recommending it. This one is really not for the faint of heart.

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