Bristling with the lyrical intensity of a Queen Latifah track, Push, Sapphire’s long-awaited debut novel, uses authentic b-girl lingo to paint a haunting, tragicomic portrait of a 16-year-old, African-American, HIV positive girl whose struggle for self-respect, self-love and self-acceptance is more complex and universal than Newt & Company would have folks believe.

Set in Harlem, Push tells the story of Claireese Precious Jones, an illiterate high-school dropout who is pregnant with her second child (both fathered by her own sexually abusive father). Without heavy-handed moralizing, Sapphire faces pejorative labels -- “welfare queen” and “unwed mother” -- head on, exposing the hollowness of tough-love campaigns, such as the tired “End Welfare as we know it!”

Sapphire’s solution? Education. Under the mentoring of a lesbian teacher, Claireese sets her sights on becoming the “queen of the ABC’s, not babies.”

As Claireese is pulling it all together, she learns that she’s contracted HIV from her father. Not surprisingly, Claireese initially views her diagnosis as the end of her life, wondering out loud why it has happened to her, “I don’t deserve this!” But when she reveals her HIV status during a class discussion, she’s overcome by the concern of her mentor and classmates, and their camaraderie and courage give Claireese -- and the reader -- hope.

Sapphire does right by her creation, breathing life into a character we all know of but don’t know. As Claireese claims and renames herself, pushing with love and pushing on with life, you will be pushing right along with her.