Friday, March 4, 2011

The First Part Last

"I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end."

Title: The first part last

Author: Angela Johnson

ISBN: 0-689-84922-2

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Copyright: 2003

Plot Summary: Bobby is a typical teenager faced with an all-too common situation: his girlfriend Nia is pregnant. At sixteen, they are shocked and decide, with the guidance of their parents, to have the baby and give it away in an open adoption. As Nia's pregnancy continues, they both look forward to going back to their normal lives and thinking of college. A month before the baby is due, Nia is stricken by sudden brain death and is put in a irreversible coma. They deliver the baby, who Bobby names Feather for how "she came to me so slow...just like somebody brushed the air with a feather" (p. 123). Bobby begins to raise Feather without the help of his parents, struggling through the lack of sleep, the feeding, the changing, and waking up two hours before school to drop her off at a nanny. He realizes that his life will never be the same and neither will his relationship with his friends. But, after a few mistakes, he realizes that it is all worth it for Feather, who is his world.

Critical Evaluation: The plot, while straightforward, in this novel, is written in an original manner, alternating between Then and Now. There is no other manner in which the time period is noted but it alternates between the time when Bobby and Nia first learn of her pregnancy, and right after her death when Bobby is first learning how to raise Feather. While some readers may find this alternating time periods disconcerting, it raises the anticipation and tension as the two time periods slowly meet at the point where Nia falls into a coma. Similarly, by alternating time periods, Johnson allows for an original use of foreshadowing, in which the readers have a hint of what will happen because they have seen what will happen. They do not, however, know the events leading up to Nia's illness, only that she is no longer around for Feather and Bobby. The reader pieces the events together and make their own hypothesis as the events get closer and closer. Bobby's point of view and his very distinct voice and language use are also important aspects of the novel, grounding it in his world and making the characters more concrete.

Reader's Annotation: Just two average teens, Bobby and Nia inadvertently become parents and struggle with the decision between normalcy and throwing it all away to raise a tiny new life. Will Bobby be able to be a man and make the right choice?

Information About the Author: Angela Johnson usually writes for children in book and poem formats. She has been writing since 1989 and covers a range of topics in the lives of African American families.
While her books for children focus on issues like moving, friendship, and family problems, her teen books, like The First Part Last, discuss the darker and more troubling issues of teen lives like teen pregnancy and divorce. Throughout all of her books, however, is an overall tone of hope for the future.

Genre: Urban; Drama; Teen Pregnancy

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • The First Part Last is an intriguing look at a single teen father who has to deal with raising a newborn and going to class. Written in an anti-chronological fashion, this book alternates before Then, in the beginning when Bobby first finds out his girlfriend is pregnant, and Now, when he deals with the infant. Bobby alternates from a callow youth who just wants to play basketball with his friends and a young man who would sacrifice himself for his little girl.

Reading Level: Freshman+

Challenge Issues:
  • While this book is about teen pregnancy, it is treated with compassion and realistically. The events are not dramatized or blown out of proportion.
  • Bobby and Nia are typical teens who do their best to deal with the situation. Bobby especially, shows true inner strength despite setbacks. He is a strong single father.
  • Realistic fiction with a strong setting and PG nature.
Why This Book?: Young Adult librarian recommendation; Coretta Scott King Award winner (2004); Michael L. Printz Award winner (2004)

Reference Page:
Johnson, A. (2003). The first part last. USA: Simon & Schuster.

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