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The First Part Last isn't a classic boy-meets-girl story. Nope, no fairy tale to be found here, Shmoopers. Angela Johnson writes this story instead: Boy gets girl pregnant, boy becomes single father, boy and baby daughter move away from everything they've ever known…
Yikes. It's not as depressing as it sounds, though, we swear. If anything, the novel is brimming with hope and love, though it pulls no punches about the difficulty of single teen fatherhood. No, seriously: Throw on an old tee-shirt, because this book practically spits up on you itself.
Johnson often writes about people of color, and The First Part Last is no exception. And guess what? She pretty much nails it. See, Johnson knows how to hook a reader, and because of this, she hooked some awards for this book as well, including the 2004 Printz award and the 2004 Coretta Scott King award. Not too shabby.
If fancy prizes and baby drama aren't your thing, though, consider this: The First Last Part is one of very few young adult novels to offer the perspective of an African American teenage father. And since around these parts, we're firm believers in the power of story telling, we'd say that's reason enough to pick it up in its own right.
For some people, the idea of having a child may involve glorious visions of a baby sweetly snuggled up in a blanket, days in a sunshine-filled park giggling on swings, precious moments watching the little one sleep, and constant smiles and laughter.
The First Part Last is the pin that pops that balloon.
That's not to say that there's no joy in being a teenage father with a baby. Bobby clearly thinks that Feather is the best thing in his life, and he's never loved anyone the way that he loves his daughter. And he absolutely becomes a better person and makes better decisions because of her.
But there's a flip side to the joy of parenting that Johnson reveals in the novel. Even though Bobby's parents give him their support, they don't become Feather's parents—that's all on Bobby. So he's the one who gets up with her in the middle of the night, who takes her to the hospital, who takes her to the babysitter, who takes her wherever he goes. He's so tired that he can barely function as a person.
Not only that, but Bobby never gets the chance to gradually outgrow his childhood, like most people. One day, he's a kid who skips school, and then—boom—he's a dad. There are no ruby red slippers to take Bobby back to who he used to be, and he feels that loss of self deeply.
In some ways, The First Part Last is a cautionary tale of the consequences of teenage pregnancy. Pregnancy is difficult for Bobby and Nia; they both struggle to come to terms with the responsibility of parenting, and ultimately decide to give up the baby. And fatherhood is even more difficult for Bobby as he struggles with how to redefine himself as a father and a person.
But the novel is also a love story. No, not the love that Bobby has for Nia, but the unequivocal, unconditional love he has for Feather. Even though there's a lot of hardship, Bobby is well on his way to figuring out who he is as a father and a person by the end of the novel. So whether you think babies are like tiny rainbows or miniature demons, you're bound to appreciate the honest look at parenting this book offers.
More than Forty Books Later…
Johnson is a prolific author, and her characters are often people of color. Check out her website for more reading ideas.
What Makes a Writer a Writer?
Turns out, a great childhood, an angry adolescence, and a vivid imagination. Find out more in Johnson's biography.
Even though Bobby's functioning as a single black father, there are probably some similarities between his life and those of the single black mothers this documentary highlights.
In Her Own Words
Johnson may be the least pretentious author ever. Ever.
The Shortage of Black Fathers
Check out what two dads think about what's important about raising children.
Sounds like Poetry
Sit back and listen to Johnson's lyrical prose in audiobook format.
The Inside Scoop
Johnson talks about how she started thinking about The First Part Last.
Two for One
There's a photo and a biography; it doesn't get much better.
One of a Kind
Aw—it might not be easy being a teen dad, but this cover shows Billy holding his beloved Feather close.