A 1996 novel by Sapphire.
Clareece Jones, aka "Precious," is an obese, illiterate African-American teenager living in Harlem with her parents. As the story opens, Clareece is pregnant with her second child (both the child she has and the child she's pregnant with are products of rape by her father, Carl). Her relationship with her mother Mary, meanwhile, is even worse (mostly physical and verbal abuse, but there is some implications of sexual abuse as well). But things start to look up when she's transferred to a GED program. There, she makes friends with a kind social worker, Mrs. Weiss; a teacher named Ms. Rain; and a few students.
Not to be confused with the movie about psychics.
The novel features examples of:
- The '80s: The novel is set in 1987.
- Abusive Parents: Precious's father has repeatedly raped her, and her mother has gone as far as to, among other acts, toss a TV at her after falling down the steps with her son, Abdul. She also forces Precious to have sex with her.
- Adults Are Useless:
- It's not a secret that Precious is pregnant by her father at twelve or that her mother beats her; when she gives birth the first time, Precious tells the nurse filling out the birth certificate that she and her baby have the same father, but the nurse's only reaction is to tsk-tsk her over being pregnant so young and all of the adults in Precious' life (including her grandmother, neighbor, and elementary school teachers) utterly fail to intervene, and the social worker employed to check on Little Mongo falls for Mary's scam hook, line, and sinker. She doesn't find any kind of help until she's well into her teens.
- Special mention for Precious' elementary school principal. When her teacher comes to him because she doesn't know how to help Precious, who (being horribly traumatized, but unable to make herself talk about it) wets herself and zones out in class, he advises her to just give up on her altogether and be grateful she isn't a disruption.
- The nurse actually does call the police after finding out about Precious' father being the father of her baby, and at least in the movie this is how Precious "made him leave", according to her mother. It's an especially ugly manifestation of this trope when the police are called in to handle a twelve-year-old incest victim who just gave birth and their response is to do absolutely nothing. Even social services is only involved for Mary's sake.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: While being diagnosed as HIV+ is still a serious matter today, during the movie's late-1980's setting it was considered a death sentence. Mostly, because it was, as there weren't too many effective treatments for it at the time. It was also mistakenly considered to affect mostly gays.
- Ambiguous Ending: The book ends on the note that Precious, despite her diagnosis and the things she's gone through, starts to make something of her life, but we don't know what her future is like. As we find out in The Kid, she passed away of AIDS, but was able to attend college before she died.
- Break the Cutie: Really, Precious' life is nothing but tragic, as she's physically and sexually abused, pregnant by the time the novel starts, functionally illiterate, is nothing but bullied and browbeaten, on top of finding out she's HIV+ and all but shatters by the end.
- Bully Hunter: Precious herself; she takes it upon herself to be a one-woman police force on behalf of her math teacher and keeps other rowdy kids in line. Despite her lashing out to cover her insecurities about being illiterate, they do seem to appreciate each other, and it's implied that this is how the school first noticed her aptitude for math.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Precious repeatedly drops "Bitch" and "Shit" into her dialogue. So does Mary, who also gives us the charming epithet "cunt bucket".
- Dark Is Not Evil: Rita Romero, one of Precious' classmates and friends at Each One, Teach One. Despite her dark clothing and somber and sedate personality (especially compared to the other girls in the class), she's actually one of the most insightful, mature and friendliest of the students there.
- Depraved Bisexual: Mary not only ignores her boyfriend's sexual abuse of her daughter, she sexually abuses Precious herself.
- Determinator: Precious, as can be surmised by this quote: "I cried the other day. I felt stupid. But you know what? Fuck that day. That's why God, or whoever, makes new days."
- Deus Angst Machina: Just when you think it couldn't get worse for Precious, it's learned that her father died of AIDS, meaning she's now HIV-positive. A bright spot, however, is that both her children are HIV-negative.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite contracting HIV from her father, Precious manages to dig herself out of the hell of her past life. She is reading at a near high school level by the end, has new friends, severs all ties with her mother, is in possession of both her children, and has gained a new lease on life. Her next move is to complete a GED test, which will allow her to graduate high school. The sequel reveals that while she ultimately succumbed to AIDS, she managed to make it to college before she passed away.
- Fat Bastard: Precious notes that Mary is literally too obese to bathe; she can't fit in the tub anymore. She forces Precious to overeat as part of her abuse pattern. Mary molests her when eating so much makes her fall asleep in front of the TV.
- Hope Spot: After reading The Color Purple, it dawns on Precious that it's possible that Carl might not actually be her biological father. He is, but the sheer magnitude of her mother's ignorance on the subject completely eclipses anything else about it, and Precious moves on without giving the idea any further thought.
- Inner City School: Precious's school is one for drop-outs trying to get their GED.
- Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Both Mary and Precious, in different ways. Mary (like many people at the time) has no idea that she's been exposed to HIV because she thinks it only spreads through anal sex. The much more heartbreaking example is Precious: she's been living in the Small, Secluded World of her horribly abusive mother's home all her life. She knows very well that her father forced her to have sex with him against her will, but it's not until after Abdul is born that it dawns on her that maybe she was raped.
- Internalized Categorism: Precious' internalized racism is painful; she muses that no one can tell she's like a white girl on the inside because she views whiteness as inherently good and valued. It's not until the end of the book that she develops a more positive view of herself, especially after she attends a support group for incest survivors, and meets women of all ages, shapes and colors who have faced abuse similar to what she suffered.
- Love Makes You Evil: And dumb, and crazy, but not in the way those tropes suggest. Mary has been in love with Carl since she was sixteen, and thinks he can do no wrong, despite his raping of Precious since she was a toddler and having a wife and children on the side and spreading AIDS. She happily tells Ms. Weiss how much she loved him even while he was raping their daughter while the three of them were in bed together, and it's implied that Mary started sexually abusing Precious with him to keep his attention.
- Middle Name Basis: "Precious" is the main character's middle name. Her given name is "Clareece".
- "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Precious orgasms while her father is molesting her, and he runs off laughing about how much she's into it.
- Parental Incest: From both parents, no less.
- Teen Pregnancy: Twice, in fact Precious' first pregnancy is a preteen pregnancy; Little Mongo is born when Precious is 12.
- The Mistress: Mary. She calls him her husband, but Carl has a wife and two other children of his own. It's not clear whether they know about Mary or Precious, but Mary doesn't seem to care or count it as any kind of infidelity, despite how she feels about Precious "stealing" Carl away when he rapes her.
- The Unfair Sex:
- Precious's mom is just as bad (if not worse) than her father in terms of how she treats her daughter. Of course, we don't get a scene of her father being confronted or confessing in tears that he was also abused, either.
- Averted in the book. Mary is just as bad as Carl, if not worse; in the movie, Mary clearly knows what Carl was doing was wrong, objected, and cries upon realizing how horrible she's been, only to go right back into denial and blaming Precious for driving Carl away. In the book, she admits she watched Carl attempt to rape Precious as a toddler, and when he succeeded, she effectively stopped thinking of Precious as human.
- Too Dumb to Live: Implied with Mary. Precious tells her to get tested after finding out that Carl died of AIDS; Mary responds that since she and Carl never had anal sex, she couldn't have HIV. While that attitude was pretty typical of the time, even Precious, illiterate and with a limited education, knows how amazingly ignorant it is. What's even more important, at the time there was virtually no treatment for AIDS anyway.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Lil Mongo, Precious's first daughter. Yes, they named her "Mongoloid".