Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York: Simon Pulse.
Jumping back and forth in time, The First Part Last tells the story of sixteen-year-old Bobby and his experiences being the boyfriend of a pregnant teen, then the father of a newborn girl. Readers feel Bobby’s struggle to take responsibility, to figure out what he wants and to make his art.
The First Part Last won the Coretta Scott King Award and normalizes blackness by assuming it and placing Bobby’s family in middle class. Bobby’s parents are divorced. His mother is a photographer and his father owns a restaurant.
The weaving between the two narratives creates tension, causing the reader to wonder how Bobby ended up being the primary guardian of his daughter when he and his girlfriend, Nia, had made different plans and how his daughter ended up with the name Feather. The structure challenges the reader to think, reflect and even to reread as they try to understand what happened between ‘then’ and ‘now.’
One chapter is told in the voice of Nia, making it worth of discussions with students. A teacher may also make note of the different parenting approaches present in the narrative.
Now on to my SPOILER-ish note. Admittedly, I’ve only read one other teen pregnancy book recently (Draper’s November Blues, 2007) but in both cases the pregnant teens face complications. Now this could be a crazy rumor, but I had always been led to believe when younger women got pregnant, they tended to face fewer complications than older women.
Activities to do with the book:
This book could trigger a number of discussion, including ones about parenthood, love, sex education, teen pregnancy, making choices with others in mind, city life as compared to small-town life.
Since the narrative makes jumps in time, students could write their own stories that follow the same structure.
“But I figure if the world were 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” (p. 4).