Maybe I’m beginning a reading trend now: one that involves raw and cutting voices, horrifying living situations, and dreams of escaping into a better life. Except unlike my previous review, this book is much more positive, and not at all supernatural. In fact, the true-to-life rawness is what makes it so particularly beautiful.
In 1987 Harlem, sixteen-year-old Claireece Precious Jones becomes pregnant with her second child. Her family lives on welfare, and both her parents sexually, verbally, and physically abuse her; her own father actually sired both her children. When the pregnancy is uncovered, Precious’s principal suggests that she try an alternative school, where she can learn to read and write and work toward a GED. While at this school, Precious finally glimpses hope for a better future, finding a new family in her teacher and classmates.
Underdog stories are among the most engaging stories to read, because of their near-universal relatability. The more miserable the underdog’s circumstances—and Precious’s are about as miserable as they come—the easier it is to root for them. But our connection to Precious is more than just feeling sorry for her. She feels like a real person in that you feel her anger, sadness, and confusion roiling within her. She truly wants to get a good education, but she has so much to deal with in the meantime.
Precious is, for lack of a better word, precious. She has such a huge capacity to love, and her love for learning, and for her two children, is just so pure. Watching her finally open up through her journal entries and her poetry makes you wish you could hug her.
Part of this story’s power is watching how Precious’s writing changes. The book begins when Precious is illiterate–when she spells many words phonetically and her language reflects the harsh tone of her household. It was kind of difficult to get through sometimes, but you know the voice is great when you can hear a distinct voice speaking the words you read.
The bonds that Precious forms with her teacher, Ms. Rain, and her classmates (all of whom come from various socioeconomic backgrounds) feel true. They bond through what they write in their journals: their stories and their poetry. There is a heartwarming section where Precious and Ms. Rain write each other notes through Precious’s journal. Ms. Rain challenges Precious to continue to confront her life through her writing, and Precious’s raw, vulnerable voice comes out full force.
Some threads did feel a little unnecessary, though. At one point, Precious learns that she is HIV-positive, and she worries that her newest child might be sick too. It seemed like just one more thing to add to Precious’s list of woes, and a reminder that this book took place during the AIDS crisis in the 80s. Precious dealing with her parents and trying to find a better life was strong enough to sustain the story; it didn’t really need anything more.
While the book may be short, it packs an emotional punch. Precious is a memorable heroine, and her journey to find a new life is uplifting and heartwarming, without feeling sentimental. But especially if you want a book with a strong distinctive voice, I highly suggest you pick it up.