Volume 91, Issue 11

Tuesday, September 16, 1997



Precious life in the dirt

Random House.
pp. 159 $ 14.95

Claireece Precious Jones has been shit on by the United States of America. She's a big black girl from Harlem and nobody has ever given her a break.

Being twice a mother by age 16 by her own father, illiterate, ruthlessly picked on by classmates and beaten by her mother, Precious knows her life sucks and she wants out. She's fat, ugly and isolated, the former characteristics affirmed by parental physical, sexual and verbal abuse and her peers: "Claireece is so ugly she laffing ugly."

Given the media images shoved at her by her mother's ever-screaming television, everything about Precious is completely wrong. She dreams she is beautiful, with a June Cleaver mom and a perfect family. She puts her faith in Farrakhan, who explains the roots of the black man's problem and justifies Precious' disillusionment. Not that faith yields complacency, but an idealized Farrakhan helps Precious cope with her problems in simple terms.

Precious Jones' voice is raw, brutal and real.

Cheated by teachers who have ignored her and set her back in school, Precious takes control of her life through an alternative education program. Her teacher, Blue Rain, not only helps Precious learn to read, but to live her own life and make decisions for herself. Despite her horrific family life and pressure to fall into the welfare trap, Precious is driven to succeed. She wants to learn, catch up, be normal, change her seat to the front of the class.

Without mincing words or skirting delicate moral issues, Precious speaks her mind. Her narrative and poetry shocks, disturbs and enlightens. A quiet kid finally screams. She's offensive and dangerous because she is honest.

Sapphire does for Harlem's women what Roddy Doyle does for Dublin families. Urban wallpaper people are given a voice tapered to their dialect, language and experience. The grit and grotesque are not left out of the narrative for propriety. The characters can speak through fiction to the audience, thereby making the lives of those on the peripheries tangible. Precious Jones never begs for sympathy, nor is she sorry for herself. In spite of all of her problems, Precious Jones has hope for herself and her children.

–Victoria Barkley

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Copyright The Gazette 1997