Precious by Sapphire is an amazing, inspiring book. The voice of Precious, the sixteen year old heroine, became so real to me that I felt as if I were inside in her brain and heart and body, hearing every one of her thoughts, and experiencing all of her emotions and sorrows and hopes and dreams, without a single restriction on what I was allowed to learn about her.
Precious was let down by almost everyone. She was sexually, physically and emotionally abused by her father and mother since she was a very small child. When she gave birth for the first time to her father’s child at the age of 12, nobody followed up to ensure she was protected in future. No one. None of the hospital staff, no welfare agencies, none of her school teachers, not even her grandmother intervened to protect her from further abuse.
Somehow Precious made it to the ninth grade, (being kept back twice) without any of the teachers at her school realising or caring that she was illiterate. She actually received A grades in class, because she used her size and personality to keep other students in line during class, something teachers who were unable to do appreciated.
When a school social worker realised Precious was pregnant for the second time at the age of 16, Precious was suspended from school and transferred to an alternative school. Here she met a teacher, Blue Rain and her classmates, a group of girls who formed a supportive community where they all began to learn to read and write together.
Not long after starting at the alternative school, Precious gave birth a second time, to a son. When she returned home from the hospital, her mother tries to kill her out of jealousy, because she believed Precious had stolen her man. Her teacher, Ms Rain, who is a wonderful, strong woman, arranged for Precious and her baby to be housed at a halfway house which became their home.
As if all of this wasn’t enough for Precious to have endured, her father then dies from HIV. Precious is tested, and has the disease. She is grateful that her son has not been infected.
Precious’s voice changes throughout the novel as she becomes literate. In the beginning, her voiced words are almost inarticulate, although her thoughts are descriptive. Both are peppered with swear words and full of shocks for the reader as she tells of the life she lives. As the novel progresses, Precious becomes literate, to the point of writing poetry which would make the reader cry with joy for how beautifully she tells her story and with sadness for what her story has been.
Parts of this book are so terrible I could hardly read them. My discomfort reading about Precious’s sexual feelings and emotions while her father raped her was almost more than I could endure. It was an act of courage on my part to continue reading, although nothing compared to the courage shown by Precious during every word of this book.
The story finishes with the creation of a class book, where the reader learns the stories of Precious’s class mates, in their own words. Sapphire leaves what happens next to Precious a mystery. We don’t know if Precious passed her G.E.D. or if she eventually got a job and went to college. The book is set during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a lot of people with HIV died. If Precious were real, she probably died. If she did, Precious would have faced her illness and death with grace and courage, but I prefer to hope she made it to college.