The First Part Last – Angela Johnson

the first part lastReading level: 4.5

Series: Book 2 of the Heaven Series

Genre: Realistic fiction

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: High school

I had high hopes for this book but I wasn’t exactly impressed. It had some great stuff, but I felt it was missing too much. For example, Bobby is a single, teenage father in school, but we’re not really told how he struggled with school and how he made the decision to stay in school rather than drop out to care for his daughter Feather.

What about money? He didn’t have a job (I don’t think), so who paid for all the things the baby needed? I guess it was assumed or implied that Bobby’s parents were paying for everything.

Bobby loved Nia because he told us. But he didn’t seem to show it. I didn’t feel anything change with Bobby and Nia between the “now” and “then” sections, which I kept waiting for. I wanted to feel the pain of Bobby losing Nia like he felt his love for Feather.

What I did like was that the book was written from the perspective of a male teenage father. I don’t think we get much of that in literature. The big message, I felt, was that Bobby grew up before he was ready, but he did it because it was the right thing to do for his daughter. Not sleeping, having to give up hanging out with friends, and having the weight of a baby’s life on your shoulders is scary, which was definitely communicated.

The language is poetic and beautifully simple given the complex situation. Over and over I felt Bobby’s fear at being charged with the care of a baby that is completely his. Maybe this book is short and doesn’t go into detail about his relationship or money or school for a reason: to focus on Bobby’s thought process about doing the right thing, being a good father, giving up his youth… I guess those are more valuable lessons and themes to explore than “how do I pay for the baby? How do I do my homework while I have a baby at home?”

I wouldn’t put it in a middle school classroom because of the sex. There’s nothing explicit but it’s strongly implied more than once. It’s probably not too “graphic” for high school shelves, although the reading level is not even to 5th grade. I think it could serve as an excellent text for someone, especially a boy, who is or will be a teenage father or who knows someone who is. I think girls could relate to Bobby too. They could relate less to Nia because her voice is hardly heard. (Side rant: I thought it was totally random and not helpful that Nia had her own little chapter as she was losing consciousness. The whole issue with her health was vague to begin with, and Nia’s chapter was like this weird in-between place of trying to make the situation more real but also not real enough so as to keep the situation vague. What??) But anyway, girls could relate to Bobby because girls would also go through the same struggles of giving up friends and a social life for sleepless nights and way too much responsibility.

Although this book is the 2nd in the Heaven Series, it can stand alone (I don’t think any of the books are connected). Lastly, this book has gotten excellent reviews from a lot of people, so don’t take my review too much to heart. I think my practicality side is taking over my emotions here.

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