The First Part Last (by Angela Johnson)

27 12 2011

Angela Johnson’s award-winning The First Part Last deals with an often overlooked perspective on teenage pregnancy and adulthood: that of the boy. Alternating between Then and Now, we follow Bobby, a black urban middle-class 16-year-old teen as he gets to deal with the news that his girlfriend Nia is pregnant. Before (Then) Bobby was just a typical teen, hanging out with his friends K-Boy and J.L. and playing Gameboy. Now, however, playing games and tagging has been replaced by taking care of his baby daughter Feather. The whole process is one of ‘becoming a man’, as one of the minor characters, Just Frank, jokingly states in the novel.

As a new father, Bobby experiences all the typical things a young parent also has to deal with: the crying, the fatigue, the dependency, the letting go, …  only Bobby is also a teenager and a single father, the reason of which only becomes clear towards the end of this short novel. More than once, the reader feels what Bobby feels: the urge to escape, yet the strong pull of Feather who almost commands him to take responsibility. In the beginning of the book Bobby explains: “I figure if the world was 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.” As such, this book does not just pull you in emotionally from the get-go, it also serves as a strong wake-up call for anyone who might potentially be in Bobby’s situation. Bobby and the reader are confronted with the grittiest of situations imaginable and it’s no mean feat to come out a man – in Bobby’s case – at the other end.

Stylistically, The First Part Last is a very strong piece of writing: Angela Johnson writes completely realistic and confident yet equally poetic prose. All this makes the events of the book even more poignant. From a story point of view, however, the novel feels a little incomplete. But, considering that The First Part Last is part of a trilogy, this is probably only a minor squabble.

PS. It’s quite refreshing that Bobby’s race is never an “issue”…



One response

6 08 2012
Jumping Off Swings (by Jo Knowles) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] other three, so having 4 POVs seems… unnecessary. If you want to prove how a pregnancy affects many different people, there are better ways to do this besides having 4 narrators (whose voices are almost […]

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