Monday, February 11, 2008

The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson

Johnson, Angela (2003). The First Part Last. New York: Simon Pulse. 132 pages.

Summary and Evaluation: Bobby is a father; he is only sixteen and now juggles who he really is, a kid who likes arcades and graffiti, with who he must be, a father willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of his daughter, Feather. This short novel alternates between “Now,” the struggle of raising an infant alone, and “Then,” the many decisions that Bobby and Nia, his girlfriend, need to make. The stories intertwine answering the question of how Bobby came to raise his daughter alone and what he does about it. Overall, I felt like the book was well done. The alternating structure of the book kept me wondering how exactly, Bobby came to be the single parent and whether I would meet his girlfriend in the “Now” chapters. Had the story been told chronologically, I probably would have found it difficult to finish. Angela Johnson did not waste words. The brevity of the descriptions and episodes enhanced the awkwardness of the situations. Short two word paragraphs without quotations are used to tell only Bobby’s side of his conversation with Nia’s parents. The concise narration is the unspeakable confusion Bobby is caught up in. One moment he’s watching fish swim around the aquarium and before he realizes it, it is six hours later. He starts spray-painting bricks before school and gets caught by a policeman in the same place hours later. At times the language threw me off. Sometimes Bobby refers to his mother as Mary, and at other times she is mom. At first, I thought that Fred was his stepfather, but in reality it was Bobby’s father who had been divorced from his mother for many years. The story also became somewhat formulaic. Johnson had to find a way for the father to raise his child alone which led to a rather uncreative demise of the mother. Though typical the mother’s fate was not a pedantic warning against teen sexual behavior.

Booktalk Hook: This book is unique because it tells the story of teen parenthood from the father’s perspective. I would booktalk it with other problem novels told from a male perspective and emphasize that most books about teen parents are told from the perspective of the mother.

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