The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bibliographic Information: Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689849222.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same.  Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad.  Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing?  And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them?  Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone.  Ever.

Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms.  Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion.  Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming.  Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter.  Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad.  Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby.  But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling.  Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic.  A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather.  Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.

Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends.  He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.

Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm).  So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.

In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather.  The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last.  In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley.  Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last.  Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents

Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up

Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative

Booktalking Ideas:

  • You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent.  Pause…  What do you do?  How do feel?
  • Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that.  Does he sound like your average 16-year-old?  Why? Why not?  Does he love her?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19

Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.

Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens.  Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives.  The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.



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