`Where are you from?’ is a question I always find hard to answer. 1971: an ad in Nursery World. `Private foster parents required for a three-month-old baby’ – me.
The lucky applicants are a 57-year-old white woman and her daughter, who love babies, especially black babies. My mother arrives, a haughty Nigerian woman in a convertible with a moses basket on the seat beside her, setting the net curtains in this all-white council estate twitching. And though the whole place makes my privileged mother’s skin crawl, she returns to London with an empty basket beside her, choosing this home for me because, unusually for the estate, my foster mother talks proper, and I’ll need a posh white accent for the bright future I have ahead of me.
I’ll cling on to that idea – that I’ve a bright future ahead of me – even though there’s nothing in my upbringing to warrant it. Even though my mother’s love consists of long absences, confusing behaviour and dauntingly high expectations. Even though my foster mother’s love is overwhelming and suffocating.
Even though I seem to be a magnet for abusive sexual attention from men I barely know. Even though the authorities have no idea where to put me or where I belong, and nor, really, do I. And even when I fall pregnant at eighteen and find myself back in the rural town I’d tried to escape from, with a tiny baby dependent on me, I still think the future’s out there.
I’ll find it, whatever it takes. Precious is the story of growing up black in a white community, of struggling to find an identity that fits amid conflicting messages, of deciphering a childhood full of secrets and dysfunction. Painfully honest, swerving from farce to tragedy, Precious has a spirit that refuses to be crushed.