“The rules: If she hollers, she is mine. If she needs to be changed, she is always mine. In the dictionary next to ‘sitter,’ there is not a picture of Grandma. It’s time to grow up. Too late, you’re out of time. Be a grown-up.” Sixteen-year-old Bobby has met the love of his life: his daughter. Told in alternating chapters that take place “then” and “now,” Bobby relates the hour-by-hour tribulations and joys of caring for a newborn, and the circumstances that got him there. Managing to cope with support, but little help, from his single mother (who wants to make sure he does this on his own), Bobby struggles to maintain friendships and a school career while giving his daughter the love and care she craves from him at every moment. By narrating from a realistic first-person voice, Johnson manages to convey a story that is always complex, never preachy. The somewhat pat ending doesn’t diminish the impact of this short, involving story. It’s the tale of one young man and his choices, which many young readers will appreciate and enjoy. (Fiction. YA)
We've all read plenty of stories about teen moms. In most of these tales, the moms are raising their babies by themselves because the dads are irresponsible, uninvolved, or just plain absent. Aren't there any good teenage dads out there?
In THE FIRST PART LAST, the story of a teen father's growing love for his baby daughter, Angela Johnson turns the tables as she revisits a character from her award-winning novel, HEAVEN. Bobby is an ambitious young man. An aspiring artist with talented parents, he is poised to graduate early from high school. But when his girlfriend Nia surprises him on his sixteenth birthday with the news of her pregnancy, Bobby's whole world turns upside down.
This brief novel alternates chapters between "then" and "now." The "then" is the story of Nia's pregnancy, as Bobby and Nia struggle to decide whether to raise their child or cave to parental pressure and give her up for adoption. The "now" is Bobby's own struggle to do the right thing for his infant daughter Feather, as a tragedy surrounding her birth has left him to care for her alone. Bobby is lucky to have a good support system, including his mother and father, his buddies, and his caring older brother. All along, Bobby's voice, which narrates the story, wavers between great love for his daughter and panic at his situation, but the emotional heart of the story never falters.
In the end, the portrayal of Bobby's relationship with his daughter is a positive one, although some critical readers might get the impression that Johnson is providing the wrong kind of role model. Not to worry. Although she does depict Bobby as a genuinely caring father, she also provides a grim picture of the not-so-rosy realities of teen parenthood, as Bobby copes with daycare dilemmas and his own insecurities: "This little thing with the perfect face and hands doing nothing but counting on me. And me wanting nothing else but to run crying into my own mom's room and have her do the whole thing."
If this novel has one fault, it is that Bobby seems so wrapped up in his daughter that he doesn't take time to dwell on his grief over Nia's fate. Bobby is a caring person who seemed to truly love his girlfriend (even heading halfway across Manhattan to satisfy her pregnancy cravings), so his lack of reflection on the loss of this relationship doesn't ring true.
Overall, though, THE FIRST PART LAST offers an all too-rare portrayal of a caring, nurturing young man, and it should be treasured as a result.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 1, 2003
The First Part Last
by Angela Johnson
- Publication Date: June 1, 2003
- Hardcover: 144 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0689849222
- ISBN-13: 9780689849220