The Kid: A Character Without a Name (Spoilers)
It's difficult to write a review about a book when the main character doesn't even know his own name.
Having read Push a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to read Sapphire's follow-up book, The Kid. I knew that the style would be written in dialect and I knew that the content would likely be very graphic and difficult to process. But even though she was a hard character to read, I did like Precious Jones and I wanted to see what happened to her son. I hoped that because Precious had done what she could to pull herself out of her awful circumstances, her son Abdul would have a chance to make something of his life.
The Kid starts on the day of Precious’s funeral. Her son, Abdul is nine and his inner dialogue with his mother throughout her funeral is heart-breaking. It’s clear that his mother has done what she can to provide him with the tools for a strong future, but we quickly see that what she has given him is quickly compromised when he is sent to a foster home where he suffers a violent head injury from one of the other foster children. Because of this, he is placed in St. Ailanthus, a Catholic boarding school.
We then flash forward four years to a scene where Abdul (now called J.J.) is molesting another student. It’s obvious, as the story moves further along, that J.J. has also been molested by several of the priests at the school. He is, however, a bright student and he is excelling in his studies. While at St. Ailanthus, he discovers a local African dance class and he attends and finds that this is something that moves him in a way he had never felt before. He is happy and there is the thought that perhaps he can endure the abuse and escape to a better life.
But yet again, this is not to be. One of the students accuses J.J. of abusing him and the priests send him away from the school to avoid any scandal.
This was the point where the book really lost me. There are a lot of flashes and breaks from reality up until this point, but when he moves in with Toosie, his great-grandmother, he suffers a huge break, and the book goes into a nearly 100 page stream of consciousness style of writing. I found it absolutely brutal to make my way through most the second section of the book. There are bits of dialogue, but for the most part, it is just unconnected thoughts, remembrances of abuses both suffered and perpetrated (for both he and Toosie), and violence.
Eventually we meet up with Abdul again as an adult, dancing with a small troupe in the city, living in a loft. Things seem once again to be on an upswing for Abdul, but once again, his brain injury, his past abuses, and his own deviant self stop him from achieving his goals. The story ends with Abdul (now Abdul-Azi Ali) in a mental institution, receiving shock therapy and trying to piece together his story though yet another stream of consciousness style section.
I wanted so much to like this book. But honestly, there was almost nothing likable about Abdul, or really any of the characters. It’s painful to see one opportunity after another lost or destroyed. I felt sad for Abdul, but only in a very disconnected way. He’s a kid. He’s a man. He’s a victim. He’s an abuser. He’s a character without a name and that makes him hard to understand.