Study Guide

Minor Characters in The First Part Last

By Angela Johnson

Minor Characters

Coco

Bobby's downstairs neighbor is a bluegrass musician, and Bobby loves that her apartment is filled with all sorts of pictures of her grandkids. She's kind of a stand-in for an adult presence when Mary is working or out of town, and Bobby makes use of this when he has Coco take Feather for the day when he is running late. But Bobby messes it all up; he doesn't call for the whole day, and Coco, who is left taking care of Feather, almost calls the cops. She's super disappointed in Bobby, which seems pretty fair given that he just disappears for a bit.

Feather

Feather isn't really an active character in the novel. We're not hating on her—it's just that she's a baby, so all she really does is eat, sleep, and poop. But though her needs are simple, they're also profound: Food, sleep, warmth, and love—that's it. This girl is all about the human essentials.

A big part of how we know Feather is by what she inspires in other people. For example, she inspires Bobby to be a better person, and she inspires Mary to step back and not parent her grandchild. And Feather is an integral part of the novel: Nia's pregnancy and Feather's birth change the entire course of Bobby's life.

So in fairness, perhaps we shouldn't think of Feather as a character who has wants and needs, and instead we should think of how she changes others through the course of the novel. She may be tiny, but she packs of a wallop.

Fred

Fred is Bobby's dad, and he's divorced from Bobby's mom. He lives in Brooklyn and runs a restaurant. Food is his haven; Bobby's mom says that the two might still be together if they only ate together and never talked. Fred has the need-to-feed gene hard core, and to this end, he's far more nurturing than Mary. When Bobby goes to live with Fred, Fred checks in on his son and granddaughter regularly, something Bobby isn't at all used to after living with his mom.

Fred seems to be the one parent who is sad when Bobby and Nia decide to give up the baby for adoption. But this doesn't necessarily translate to him going easy on Bobby. He's the one who picks Bobby up from the police station, and Bobby feels incredibly guilty for "taking my dad's smile and probably some more things he'll never talk about" (18.42). Fred is worried about Bobby and Feather, but he's also not going to berate Bobby more than he has to, so he retreats into silence, which kind of gives us a hint about how Bobby defines being a man.

J. L.

J. L. is one of Bobby's best friends. They've been friends since preschool, but when Bobby reveals that Nia's pregnant, J. L. makes a terrible joke and then walks off alone. He, like Bobby, knows that there is a lot of birth control around, so he has a hard time understanding why Bobby didn't use it. He doesn't serve much of a purpose except to support Bobby and offer a little comic relief.

Jackie

Jackie is Feather's babysitter and she lives in Brooklyn, which is quite a haul for Bobby when he's living with his mom. She was Bobby's babysitter when he was young, and there's a weird scene where Bobby picks up Feather and remembers what it was like to be at Jackie's as one of her charges. When Bobby gets arrested for vandalism, we're told that Jackie's worried, but she's not really a major part of the plot. Mostly Bobby just feels that taking Feather to the babysitter is yet another responsibility he has to remember.

Just Frank

Just Frank is an alcoholic who hangs out on the street corner in Bobby's mother's neighborhood. He regularly asks Bobby if he's being a man, and Bobby never knows how to respond. Frank dies early on while trying to save a girl from assault, but his actions and words stick with Bobby throughout the novel, especially when it comes to the concept of manhood. Even though Just Frank may not look like much, his actions demonstrate what kind of man he is.

K-Boy

Like J. L., K-Boy has grown up with Bobby since childhood. He's a good-looking guy who, as he says, just hangs out with girls, but we're pretty sure that's code for being a player. K-Boy is the one who asks Bobby the hard questions about becoming a parent (3.26, 10.37), and when he does, Bobby has a pretty intense reaction, which means that K-Boy is doing a good job of getting to the heart of what Bobby wants. Because of this, K-Boy's kind of a guide for Bobby, but only slightly because he can't really empathize with what Bobby's going through.

Mary

Mary is Bobby's mother, and she chooses not to become Feather's mother as well—she tells Bobby time and again that she's only the grandmother, not the go-to babysitter or changer of diapers. Mary may provide Bobby the financial support he needs, but she gives him very little emotional support. She attended the school of hard knocks, and having alcoholic parents most likely influenced how she raised her children.

When Bobby and Nia decide to give the baby up, she's overjoyed at their decision, though to her credit, when Bobby decides to keep Feather, Mary supports him one hundred percent. We get the sense that she's secretly kind of a softie who keeps hard shell on the outside, especially when Bobby finds her crying after he moves into his dad's apartment in Brooklyn (check out Chapter 23). Plus, she supports Bobby as he moves away from home to a new city to give her granddaughter a better life. It's pretty clear she may be tough, but her heart's in the right place.

Paul

Paul is Bobby's older brother, and he's divorced with two kids—Nick, who is six, and Nora, whose age is unknown. Paul and his kids come to visit family in New York City from Heaven, Ohio, where Paul lives because he wants to be closer to his kids. Paul loves it in Heaven, and he convinces Bobby to move there with Feather by talking about how it's a great place to raise kids.

Paul's a solid older brother. He's supportive and understanding, and he's happy to help Bobby navigate the treacherous waters of parenthood. It will be easier for this to happen now that Bobby and Feather live in the same town as Paul. Yay.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins

Nia's parents mostly function as a unit. They're sort of like their apartment decorations: cool and detached and quiet. They react to the news of the pregnancy by disassociating themselves from the room, almost as if they can imagine that reality isn't happening—Nia's mom keeps a smile on her face, and Nia's dad just stares out the window (6.15-28). Okay, you two…

Although we know much less about them than we do about Bobby's parents, they support Nia through the pregnancy. At one point, they consider sending her to Georgia so that she'll be less stressed (remember, Nia has preeclampsia), but we don't know if that would also serve the purpose of getting Nia and her pregnancy out of sight and out of mind. After all, when Bobby and Nia decide to give the baby up for adoption, the Wilkinses are thrilled. Check it out:

I think Nia's dad took his first real breath since the first time he found out she was having a baby.

Her mom smiled at me. (24.11-12)

In fairness, Nia's parents may feel like they have been pardoned from prison, because if Nia had kept the baby (and if she hadn't slipped into a coma), they would have found themselves with a baby in their midst. And living with babies ain't easy, whether you're changing diapers or just trying to hear yourself think while they holler in the other room.

But then Nia does become comatose, and Bobby decides to keep Feather. And although Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins promise to support Bobby, we never hear about them in the now chapters of the novel. They disappear from Bobby's life, and play no part of their granddaughter's life either.

It seems, then, that the Wilkinses lose their daughter and their granddaughter in one day, the first by chance and the second by choice. And while we can forgive them for their grief, we have a hard time forgiving them for turning their backs on Feather.

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