The First Part Last by Angela Johnson


Bobby is a pretty normal 16-year-old boy growing up in New York City. He plays a little basketball, he likes to hang out at the arcade with his best friends, and he’s getting by in high school. But his life changes very quickly when he learns that his girlfriend, Nia, is having a baby.

Bobby is a thoughtful young man, and he has a lot to think about as he tries to grow up very quickly. His love for his baby daughter, Feather, is strong, but it’s tough for a sixteen year old to always make the right choices.  And being responsible for another person means that the stakes for his choices are suddenly much higher.

Bobby does screw up sometimes in the book, but The First Part Last is not really a book about plot or action. The narrative is not linear – it slides around between his life before Feather was born and his life now. Each short chapter illuminates a small part of how Bobby is dealing with his new responsibilities. Nia appears only in the “then” chapters that take place before Feather is born, and the reader doesn’t learn why until a devastating series of chapters near the end of the book, including a single chapter from Nia’s perspective. It’s a beautiful, poetically written book, like all of Angela Johnson’s novels. The short chapters, realistic and engaging subject matter, likeable narrator, and the length of the book would seem to make it a great pick for reluctant readers, but I think the constant time shifts and the lack of a straightforward plot might be a little bit confusing for some readers.