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Kim's Book Reviews
| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert

by Angela Johnson


Johnson, Angela. THE FIRST PART LAST. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. ISBN 0689849222.


This is the story of Bobby, a sixteen-year-old who must face some harsh realities when his girlfriend becomes pregnant. In chapters that alternate between the time leading up to the birth of his daughter and his present life as a father, we see his struggle to make the right choices for his own life as well as that of his daughter, and his transition from childhood to manhood.


Johnson weaves the past and the present together to give a vivid portrait of teenage pregnancy and parenthood from the perspective of a young father.  Through each chapter, the reader learns a little more about Bobby and the circumstances that lead him to the point of single parenthood. Readers can see what a loving and trustworthy father he will be from the way he describes Nia and stands by her throughout the pregnancy.  In many ways he is a typical sixteen-year-old; he likes to play basketball with his friends, and he dreams of finishing high school and going to college. But there is one huge difference for him, he is solely responsible for his infant daughter, Feather. His parents are supportive, but they have made it clear to him that he has primary responsibility for her. The reader sees Nia through Bobby’s eyes, as a beautiful young woman who wants to be ready for motherhood, but has moments when fear takes over and needs reassurance.


Johnson does a wonderful job of describing the joys of parenthood – from the new baby smell to the smiles saved just for Daddy – but, without didacticism, she also shares the hardships of being a single parent at sixteen. Feather keeps Bobby awake most nights and he is terrified by her total dependence on him. When the stress of his new life becomes too much, Bobby slips up and gets arrested for vandalism when he skips school to spray paint some buildings. He nearly falls asleep in class, and when he’s at the pediatrician’s office he fantasizes about having her write a note to get him out of all of the new responsibilities he has. 


The dialogue in the story is natural and suited to the characters, and the language has an overall “teen” feel to it. The story is filled with images of city life, from subways to pizzerias.  By making both Bobby and Nia children from middle to upper middle class families, Johnson conveys the message that teen pregnancy is an issue for all socioeconomic classes. Slight usage of bad language and descriptions of sexual activity may concern some parents, but overall, this book provides positive messages for teens dealing with the pressures of relationships and presents a realistic view of the changes that come with parenthood.

Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction