Push: A Novel


Knopf Publishing Group, 1996

Plot Summary

Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem's casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as she learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it truly her own for the first time.


  • Publishers Weekly (June 10, 1996): “With this much anticipated first novel, told from the point of view of an illiterate, brutalized Harlem teenager, Sapphire (American Dreams), a writer afiliated with the Nuyorican poets, charts the psychic damage of the most ghettoized of inner-city inhabitants. [...] Sapphire has created a remarkable heroine in Precious, whose first-person street talk is by turns blisteringly savvy, rawly lyrical, hilariously pig-headed and wrenchingly vulnerable.”

The New York Times (June 14, 1996): “...a much-talked-about first novel by a poet named Sapphire, a novel that manages to be disturbing, affecting and manipulative all at the same time. [...] What prevents all this from sounding as cloying as the characters' names is Precious's street-smart, angry voice, a voice that may shock readers with its liberal use of four-letter words and graphic descriptions of sex, but a voice that also conjures up Precious's gritty, unforgiving world. Sapphire somehow finds lyricism in Precious's life, and in endowing Precious with her own generous gifts for language, she allows us entree into her heroine's state of mind.”



ALA Black Caucus First Novelist Award (Not archived, retrieved from Penguin Random House)

Mind Book of the Year Award (Not archived, retrieved from Penguin Random House)




Village Voice Top Ten Books, 1996 (Not archived, retrieved from Penguin Random House)

Time Out New York Top Ten Books, 1996 (Not archived, retrieved from Penguin Random House)


Response to Challenges

Author Sapphire, in response to the Davison Community Schools (Michigan) decision to remove Push from school libraries: “I do not think teenagers should be shielded from these very cruel facts of life. And the book reflects... the language that they use. [...] The things in my book, the journey that the character takes- the language that is used ends up liberating her and allowing her to access the whole world of language. It does not diminish the character and it does not diminish the reader.” (ABC 12 News)

Author Sapphire, on reader responses to Push: “In Michigan one woman held up the book, trembling, saying: ‘I've never heard of anything like this in my life.’ On the other side of the room there was a psychiatrist who said: ‘I hear it every day.’” (The Guardian)

Author Michael Silverblatt, in conversation with Sapphire: “I think both of these books [Push and sequel The Kid] will be part of the American legacy. The history of American literature is a history of our people telling their own story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Saul Bellow or Amy Tan. Literature is always one generation after another of people who get to step up and tell the story honestly, and with the respect for what literature is. And that is what I think Sapphire has done.” (LAist)

Teacher Mary Baron: “PUSH is obscene and violent. It is true and admirable. [...] I am going to teach PUSH because I know students like Precious.” Speaking of her students who plan to become teachers themselves, she said, “They need to read PUSH before they look out over a class, which includes children like Precious: children beaten, abused, neglected, hungry, or homeless. They should know the difference between surliness and despair before they misread one for the other. They will have to learn the terrible truths of their students' lives.” (ALAN)

PEN America Utah Chapter Leader Paisley Rekdal, in response to the Alpine School District (Utah) decision to remove 52 books from school libraries, including Push: “Alpine School District’s ban on these books—some of which are beloved texts from my own childhood–is a grave and disappointing mistake. Banning books that tackle the complexity of sexuality, gender, identity, and young adulthood out of the misguided fear that younger readers can’t distinguish between fact and fiction, and won’t be able to comprehend and even critique for themselves any idea that challenges them is both patronizing and naïve. People long for more, not less complexity, and young readers should be given the texts—and tools—that allow them to navigate the world they actually live in.” (PEN America)

PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, in response to the same incident: “Students have a right to learn about the variety of human experiences and perspectives that these books provide.” (PEN America)

Teacher Mary Kubicek, in response to the Dearborn Public Schools (Michigan) decision to remove 7 books from school libraries, including Push: “This is an attack on our public schools and our public libraries, and this is an attempt to take away people's rights to read and people's right to hear the stories of other people.” (The Detroit News)

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, in response to the rhetoric behind the same bans: “The same dangerous ideology that once considered people like me ‘a problem’ in Dearborn is now being revived under the guise of preserving ‘liberty’.” (Latin Times)


“Push.” (1996, June 10). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-679-44626-2

“Reading Guide From Push (Revised).” Penguin Random House. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/677181/push-revised-by-sapphire/9780593314609/read ing-guide

Baron, M. “Why I Choose to Teach Sapphire's PUSH.” (2000, Spring). ALAN. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring00/baron.html

Bidisha. “Sapphire: ‘I Knew It Was Disturbing.’” (2011, September 8). The Guardian. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from


Davis, K. “It's Banned Books Week! What's Been Pulled in Genesee County?” (2022, September 23). ABC 12 News. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

https://www.abc12.com/news/education/its-banned-books-week-whats-been-pulled-in-genesee-co unty/article_aaa5bace-3b8d-11ed-8480-aba59758b67a.html

Johnson, M. “Dearborn Book Bans Draw Supporters and Foes.” (2022, September 25). The Detroit News. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2022/09/25/dearborn-library-book-b an-protests/69514798007/

Kakutani, Michiko. “Books of the Times; A Cruel World, Endless Until a Teacher Steps In.” (1996, June 14). The New York Times. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/14/books/books-of-the-times-a-cruel-world-endless-until-a-teac her-steps-in.html

Manderfield, K.. “Just Don't Call Her Controversial: Novelist Sapphire and Michael Silverblatt on 'The Kid,' Precious, and the Future of America.” (2011, July 28). LAist. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://laist.com/news/entertainment/dont-call-her-controversial-novelis-1

Trimel, S. “Ban on 52 Books in Largest Utah School District Is a Worrisome Escalation of Censorship.” (August 1, 2022). PEN America. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

https://pen.org/press-release/ban-on-52-books-in-largest-utah-school-district-is-a-worrisome-escal ation-of-censorship/

Yap, E. “Anti-LGBTQ Book Bans Intensify in Michigan as Muslim-Americans Join Pro-Censorship Crusade” (2022, October 17). Latin Times. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.latintimes.com/anti-lgbtq-book-bans-intensify-michigan-muslim-americans-join-pro-ce nsorship-crusade-529620



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