Thursday, January 12, 2012

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bobby is 16 and a father.  He is the soul guardian of his brand new daughter, Feather.  Bobby loves Feather so much it scares him.  But his love for her doesn't change the fact that he still  a kid that wants to be cared for himself and is completely overwhelmed by Feather's care.

The First Part Last is a very short book.  It's a novella, almost, a little over 100 pages.  I read it about an hour.  It's written on a middle school level.  The language is simple and straight forward, but beautiful in its simplicity.  Angela Johnson said a lot more in 131 pages than a lot of other authors say in 400.  It makes me think some other author's are in desperate need of an editor.  I think this has a lot of high school appeal as well.  It's easy to read, but high interest. 

The First Part Last is unique in several ways.  First, there aren't a whole lot teenage pregnancy books that focus on the father, and that focus on the father actually caring for the child after it's born.  Bobby and his girlfriend Nia are from middle class families, also not seen as much in teenage pregnancy stories.  Bobby and Nia, even after they know about the pregnancy, continue their relationship and clearly care about each other very much.  That in particular I was struck by.  Bobby and Nia had a very gentle, caring relationship.  Most of the books about teenage pregnancy I've read the relationship is bad, or falls apart.  In this book, Bobby and Nia love each other, do something super stupid they know was super stupid, and then they deal with it and continue to love each other, and getting married never comes up.  Amazing.

Bobby's reaction to being a single father who's still in high school was realistically torn.  He loves his baby.  He's actually afraid of how much he loves her, and of how much Feather needs him and depends on him.  He wants to do what's best for her, care for her and make her happy.  But that doesn't change the fact that he's 16, and wants to play basketball with his friends, and hang out, and sleep through the night, and go to school without having to worry.  The portrayal of Bobby's emotions was heartfelt and painful.

There were still some flaws in the story.  Spoilers ahead.

I really loved this book until the end, when it was revealed why Nia was not in the picture.  I was wondering why the whole time, especially seeing what a loving relationship she and Bobby had.  Where was she?  It turns out she's in a vegetated state because of eclampsia, which is pretty rare and rare not to be caught in its pre-eclampsia stage.  I felt let down.  It would have made for a far more interesting story if there were a reason Nia had decided not to be involved in the baby's life, and therefore Bobby's.  I found the eclampsia route disappointing.

This also raised the question, "Where are Nia's parents?"  Bobby keeps the baby, because he can't think of parting with her now with Nia in a coma, and Nia's parents saying how Feather is the only thing they have left of their daughter.  If that was the case, why did they not show up at all in Feather's (and therefore Bobby's) life?  That seemed very odd.  They seemed to have just disappeared.  I would have thought they would want to be very involved in Feather's life, or maybe even would have wanted to raise her themselves.

Still beautifully written and a unique perspective.

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