Study Guide

Nia Wilkins in The First Part Last

By Angela Johnson

Nia Wilkins

Everyone's a peripheral character to Bobby in this novel, even Nia, the love of his life and mother of his child. For the most part, we only know as much about Nia as Bobby shares, though Nia does narrate one chapter herself as well. She may be Feather's mom, but mostly she's floating in the sidelines in this story.

Different Roots, Kindred Spirits

Nia and Bobby come from really different family backgrounds. Heck, even their houses are super different. When Bobby reflects on Nia's home he thinks:

To me, our house was crowded and noisy.

Nia lived in space and quiet. (6.8-9)

Despite living in "space and quiet," though, Nia doesn't really seem like the quiet type. Sure, her home life is convenient for the couple—they're often alone in Nia's home, which is kind of how the story gets going in the first place—but we really see who Nia is when she's at a party, in Central Park, and generally away from her house. Despite her sparse surroundings, Nia's definitely got a personality and she's not afraid to use it. Check her out:

Nia stands up with one hand on her hip. She still only weighs about ninety pounds and isn't showing at all. But that doesn't mean she isn't full of attitude. (8.19)

In other words, girl's got sass. Nia has no problem standing up for herself when she wants to or thinks she needs to, and she tells Bobby what she wants, and he, ever the sweet boyfriend, does it for her. She constantly tells people that "they have to take her like she is" (20.39), and Bobby always does.

She isn't all attitude, though, and importantly, Nia appears to care for Bobby as much as he cares for her. She includes him in the pregnancy, and they date and spend time together and even disappear into Nia's room for a while for some intimacy. But Bobby's love for Nia, and Nia's for Bobby, still pales when compared to the love that Bobby has for Feather.

Maternal Instincts?

It's pretty clear that Nia doesn't want to be a mother. She's young, she has dreams, and, as we see, raising a kid is Hard Work, capitalized. She tells Bobby straight up:

"I don't want to be anybody's mother. I'm not done with being a kid myself. I'm way too young and so are you." (20.34)

Nia expresses in a handful of words the conflict that Bobby faces throughout the novel. She isn't mature enough for parenthood, not ready for the responsibility. She has dreams for college and her future, and she doesn't want to give them up. So, because of how she feels, she and Bobby decide to give the baby up for adoption. She cries, because she feels a loss, but she thinks that it's the right thing for her to do.

Slip Sliding Away

Pregnancy is hard on Nia. She's a tiny woman who is barely a woman, but more than that, her pregnancy is full of complications. We never really know what any of them are, but we understand when she goes into the coma that she had eclampsia. The signs are all there in the novel:

"The doctor says my blood pressure is still too high. School and everything. They're talking about a tutor." (18.34)

High blood pressure is one symptom of preeclampsia, which usually occurs during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is more likely during a first pregnancy, during teenage years, and for African American women. Nia, then, finds herself in the midst of a perfect storm.

And then she becomes comatose. In the only chapter she narrates, we see her dream of flying as she realizes that she may be leaving life as she knows it (she is). Bummer. Big time. Poor Nia has Feather, and then slips into what doctors call an "irreversible coma." And that's it for Nia.

The next time we see Nia, she's in a nursing home and Bobby is visiting her to say goodbye. She's technically still alive, but only barely so, and Bobby and Feather are moving on with their lives without her.

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