Book Review: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
What happens to the father when teens have babies?
There are probably hundreds of books dealing with teen mothers and what they go through, but this book is a rarity: a book about what happens to the teen-aged father when an accidental baby happens.
Bobby is an ordinary kid, good enough in school, good enough on the street, and he really loves Nia. Then she gets pregnant, and his whole life changes. This could have been the sort of book that beats you ever the head with Why Teens Shouldn't Have Sex, but instead, it's a very sweet and incredibly sad picture of a young boy trying his best to be a good father when he hardly knows how to even begin being an adult. Told in little snippets that alternate between the past and the present and show us the defining moments of Bobby's life without dwelling on the things that would only complicate what is a very straight-forward story (while also not ignoring that there are bad things that happen, and they have consequences), the story builds to a very effective emotional punch at the end.
The voice is perfect, reading the way people actually speak without devolving into a grammar nightmare, perfectly suited for a kid of sixteen, and framed in exactly how a lower-middle class teen might see the world around him when he loves where he lives and has no idea how to handle the situation he finds himself in. It's a remarkably low-key book, but manages to keep the reader's attention with a nice mystery and a deep emotional truth as we watch present Bobby falling in love with his infant child and past Bobby falling in love with her mother-- and dealing with the repercussions of that.
It's a short read, and carries the reader along with a nice beat and rhythm of a story told how it might be told to a baby who needs to know it but isn't old enough to understand, so that the bad parts are generally skipped, but the rest doesn't need to be blunted at all. It's a delicate line to walk, and it's beautifully done.