Sunday, November 16, 2008

The First Part Last

Bibliography: Johnson, Angela. 2003. The First Part Last. New York. Simon and Schuster: Books for Young Readers ISBN 0689949222

Plot Summary: Bobby, a teenage boy, receives the incomprehensible news on his sixteenth birthday that his girlfriend Nia is pregnant. Through first person narrative from Bobby's perspective, the reader is allowed to view the male side of teen pregnancy. The emotional roller-coaster filled with What-Ifs: what if we keep the baby? What if we put the baby up for adoption? What if this had never happened? keep the reader wondering what the eventual outcome will be, resulting in an unexpected twist.

Critical Analysis: Angela Johnson offers a moving and poignant rendering of the teen pregnancy issue. Johnson chooses to focus on the lesser-known protagonist in the drama, that of the teenage father.
Using a unique, almost poetic style, the action is revealed in a way that shows first the story that is occurring "Now" in its own chapter and the past action that occurred "Then". through the Now and Then chapters, the reader is brought along through the story via the eyes of the young father in first person narrative. Very little profanity is used, despite the fact that the young protagonist is a male teen who resides in a large inner city neighborhood. To leave such language out of a modern, realistic novel with this theme would be insinuating that it doesn't exist.
Teens will find several characters in this novel with whom to relate and with whom to cry when it is disclosed at the end of the story that Bobby's girlfriend Nia experiences complications in her pregnancy. Nia's voice is show only once when she reveals that something has gone wrong, "I'm flying up high over everybody...and even myself...I guess this is what it must feel like to be dying." The What-Ifs are finally answered also when Bobby tells his new baby daughter that " were mine...'cause now that she was gone I wouldn't sign the papers" which will allow for much discussion between teens as to whether Bobby did the right thing or not.

Review Excerpts:
From BooklistGr. 6-12. Bobby, the teenage artist and single-parent dad in Johnson's Coretta Scott King Award winner, Heaven (1998), tells his story here. At 16, he's scared to be raising his baby, Feather, but he's totally devoted to caring for her, even as she keeps him up all night, and he knows that his college plans are on hold. In short chapters alternating between "now" and "then," he talks about the baby that now fills his life, and he remembers the pregnancy of his beloved girlfriend, Nia. Yes, the teens' parents were right. The couple should have used birth control; adoption could have meant freedom. But when Nia suffers irreversible postpartum brain damage, Bobby takes their newborn baby home. There's no romanticizing. The exhaustion is real, and Bobby gets in trouble with the police and nearly messes up everything. But from the first page, readers feel the physical reality of Bobby's new world: what it's like to hold Feather on his stomach, smell her skin, touch her clenched fists, feel her shiver, and kiss the top of her curly head. Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal Grade 8 Up-Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don't comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby's relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy. Bobby's parents are well-developed characters, Nia's upper-class family somewhat less so. Flashbacks lead to the revelation in the final chapters that Nia is in an irreversible coma caused by eclampsia. This twist, which explains why Bobby is raising Feather on his own against the advice of both families, seems melodramatic. So does a chapter in which Bobby snaps from the pressure and spends an entire day spray painting a picture on a brick wall, only to be arrested for vandalism. However, any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking. Teens who enjoyed Margaret Bechard's Hanging on to Max (Millbrook, 2002) will love this book, too, despite very different conclusions. The attractive cover photo of a young black man cradling an infant will attract readers.Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Conduct a book talk on the novel after school hours- might need to include parental permission
Display other books on teen pregnancy such as the following:
The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom (graphic novel)
Annie's Baby (anonymous)
Chill Wind by Janet MacDonald
Choices by Dianne Wolfer
Dance for Three by Louise Plummer
Dancing Naked by Shelley Hrdlistchka
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry

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