Study Guide

The First Part Last Tone

By Angela Johnson


Contemplative and Direct

Because the narrative is split between pre-parent Bobby, who is coming to terms with an unintended pregnancy, and single-dad Bobby, who is coming to terms with the joys and difficulties of fatherhood, The First Part Last has a pretty thoughtful tone.

A lot of the conflict is internal—Bobby agonizes over what he wants to do with the baby—and in Chapter 30, we get three pages of thoughts, with only one line said aloud. So yeah, contemplative is definitely the word for this book. The action is straightforward, but the realizations that Bobby works to get to are anything but. His mind meanders, all in the name of trying to figure out how to manage his life and take care of Feather. For instance:

When I walk past my mom's room, I miss her.

I walk to my room, put Feather in her crib, which pisses her off and makes her scream, and then I look around my room and miss me. (9.32-33)

There are two different kinds of missing going on here. Bobby literally misses his mom—he's had a hard night—but he figuratively misses himself and who he used to be, because he's struggling to redefine who he is.

But even in this reflection, Bobby is, as always, direct—he pulls no punches about what his life is like. Of particular note are his descriptions of what exactly he has to do to take care of his baby. He tells us:

As long as sound is coming out of it, the whole world is just fine for my caramel, sweet-faced, big-eyed baby; who's killing me, and keeping me so tired I can't keep my eyes open. (11.9)

Bobby's got the mixture of love and resentment and fatigue that comes with new parenthood about right. He tells it like it is, time and again, and we end up believing his story because he is so honest with both himself and us.

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