An excellent example of contemporary realistic fiction, THE FIRST PART LAST tells the story of a sixteen-year-old single
boy struggling to raise his infant daughter on his own. Johnson creates believable characters that the reader will come to
know as the story unfolds. The novel begins with Bobby’s girlfriend telling him, on his sixteenth birthday, that she
is pregnant. The chapters are alternately titled “then” and “now.” The division between the two is
the birth of Bobby’s baby, Feather.
The chapters describing “then” recount Bobby’s life during Nia’s pregnancy. They tell of a
young hip black man hanging with his friends in New York City, eating pizza, shooting hoops, and trying to deal with the reality
of Nia’s news. Bobby’s parents and Nia’s parents are told the news, Bobby accompanies Nia to her doctor’s
appointments, and everyone goes to talk with a social worker whose advice is to give the baby up for adoption.
The “now” chapters deal with the stark reality of being the primary caregiver of an infant. “She
whimpered herself awake, which means she only wants to be put in the bed beside me. No diaper change or formula needed. No
big screaming fit. She only wants Daddy. That scares the shit out of me. Just me. This little thing with the perfect face
and hands doing nothing but counting on me. And me wanting nothing else but to run crying into my own mom’s room and
have her do the whole thing. It’s not going to happen . . .” Bobby must juggle the demands of a newborn and finish
high school at the same time, a seemingly impossible task.
The “then” chapters mention Nia’s high blood pressure problems; in the “now” chapters,
Nia is noticeably absent. It’s not until close to the end of the book that we discover Nia has suffered eclampsia and
is in an irreversible vegetative coma.
The reader comes to admire Bobby even though he’s not perfect. He is arrested for vandalism after a day of spraypainting
a brick wall. His struggles with staying awake during school, and the beautiful descriptions of his feelings for Feather help
the novel to not be a “this is what not to do and why” book.
The story ends with Bobby leaving the big city that he loves and moving to a small town where his brother lives in
order to give Feather a better life. Even though the struggle isn’t over, the ending gives the reader lots of hope that
the future is indeed a bright one for Feather and her father.
Johnson, Angela. 2003. THE FIRST PART LAST. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689849222.