Johnson, Angela. 2003. THE FIRST PAR
LAST. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689849222.
THE FIRST PART LAST by Angela Johnson is a touching, contemporary,
realistic fiction novel that is a recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults.
It is an eloquently written and moving story of teen pregnancy. Bobby, the main character and narrator, is sixteen years
old and is struggling to raise his infant daughter, Feather. He is solely responsible for the baby and has little help
from his parents.
Using short, easy to read sentences and compelling language, Johnson, looks at teen pregnancy
from a male perspective. Bobby tells his story in alternating chapters of “now” and “then,” reflecting
back on the pregnancy of his girlfriend, Nia, and telling of his life with the baby now. Bobby and Nia consider adoption,
which will give them their freedom. Through a series of flashbacks later in the book, the reader finds out that Nia
suffered eclampsia, and is now in a vegetative coma, and will never recover. As a result of Nia’s condition, Bobby
refuses adoption and takes the baby home.
The urban setting Johnson provides is very descriptive. It is in the
Upper West Side of New York City complete with apartment buildings with aging elevators, cars honking, and homeless people
that are killed. The characters are well developed and believable. Bobby, a carefree teenager, is now riddled
with conflict. His life has abruptly changed and he is struggling emotionally. Bobby’s family and his two
friends K-Boy and J.L. are strong support systems that understand his dilemma.
The story’s plot, teenage pregnancy,
is very realistic and reflects today’s society. Johnson shares with the readers the unpleasant realities of parenthood.
She includes: crying, sleepless nights, spit-up, dirty diapers, exhaustion, etc. The plot also includes the dilemma
of the whether to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. To further develop the plot, Johnson shares the harsh realities
of Nia, and the state she is in after having the baby. The book combines harsh realities with an exceptional ending
of hope for Feather and Bobby.
Attracting readers to the book is the cover. It is a picture of a young, strong,
black man holding his tiny, beautiful baby girl in his arms. The title of the book, The First Part Last, is addressed in the first chapter of the book, at which
point the reader will be hooked. This is a beautiful story of love and dedication that young readers are sure to enjoy.
It is a powerful story that should have a positive impact on the reader.
School Library Journal:
"Brief, poetic, and absolutely
riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant."
"Johnson makes poetry with
the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again."
Paula's Young Adult Literature Website