Written by: Angela Johnson
Publication Info: 2003, Simon & Schuster
One Line: Bobby is just a normal teenager until his girlfriend Nia gets pregnant. They plan to give the baby up for adoption, but something happens that makes Bobby change his mind – deciding to raise the little girl on his own.
Brief Plot Summary: Divided into “then” and “now” alternating sections, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby, a typical teenager living in New York City. He enjoys his friends, basketball, playing pranks and tagging (graffiti). When his girlfriend Nia gets pregnant, everything changes. At first, they plan to give the baby up for adoption, but now, Bobby is taking care of his infant daughter Feather. Although he still lives with his mother, she is little help to him. His father is a bit more understanding, but he lives across town. He simultaneously loves Feather and wants his old life back, and he occasionally still does stupid and impulsive things, despite the baby. He’s still struggling to finish school, as well, and it all seems too much for him. Gradually, the
Thoughts: Printz winner The First Part Last is not a difficult book to read technically – the chapters are short, and the sparse prose is easy to understand but feels authentic to the narrator, Bobby. However, the topic is a difficult one, and it is handled here with empathy and compassion and told from a unique point of view, that of a single teen father. This is not something we commonly see. The structure of the book actually makes it suspenseful, as well: we are not given any information about why Bobby is raising the baby alone, and the “then” segments unfold to tell us this painful story. The one problem with the book is that a few of the characters seem inauthentic. Bobby’s mother is very unsympathetic to his plight, almost punishing the baby for Bobby’s mistake (that he can no longer do anything about) despite being a well-educated working woman. This seems a bit of a contrivance designed to get Bobby to do things on his own, as does the fact that Nia’s parents are not involved with the baby, when there are indications that they wanted to be. Despite those flaws, it is a realistic portrayal of the difficulties that come with having a baby when not yet prepared, but also displays the love that Bobby feels for his baby. The reader wishes for both Bobby and his baby to have good lives, and many teens will recognize themselves in this portrayal of an urban teen in over his head.
Author Information: From www.alabamaliterarymap.lib.ua.edu: “Angela Johnson was born in Tuskegee, Ala., but her family moved to a small town in Ohio when she was a child. She began keeping a journal in elementary school after reading Harriet the Spy, and she wrote poetry in high school, but she expected to become either a social worker or a teacher. Johnson began attending classes at Kent State University but developed writer’s block. When she decided not to return to school, she was able to write again. After leaving school, Johnson worked for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) as a child development worker and wrote stories on the side. Eventually she began writing full-time.
Johnson’s first book, the picture book, Tell Me a Story, Mama, was published in 1989. She published her first young adult novel, Toning the Sweep, in 1993. She continues to publish both picture books and young adult novels, many of which have won awards and have appeared on lists such as “Best Books” (School Library Journal). In 2003, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded Johnson a MacArthur Fellows Program Grant (the MacArthur “genius grant”) in recognition of her creative work.
Angela Johnson’s picture books feature black American children in loving relationships with their families. Her young adult novels depict black American young people struggling to achieve adulthood and deal with issues such as cancer, mental illness, and teenage parenthood. All of her books have an optimistic tone and emphasize individuals’ connectedness to and need for the love and support of family and friends.”