The First Part Last

I never had any cake though ’cause my girlfriend Nia was waiting on our stoop for me with a red balloon. Just sittin’ there with a balloon, looking all lost. I’ll never forget that look and how her voice shook when she said, “Bobby, I’ve got something to tell you.” – Bobby, The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson

I am conducting some research for a writing project. The research involves reading a few young adult fiction novels that deal with unplanned pregnancy, teen parenting and more.

Wow.  Can we get a bigger trigger pointed at me?  It is one thing to read Fessler or Robinson or Solinger. It is another thing entirely to read books written for teens like I was, books that describe my experience, books that talk about having to tell your boyfriend that your period has disappeared. Ay yi yi.

Last night I read a book titled The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Gulp. The novel (as described by Amazon) tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don’t comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby’s relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy. Bobby’s parents are well-developed characters, Nia’s upper-class family somewhat less so. Flashbacks lead to the revelation in the final chapters that Nia is in an irreversible coma caused by eclampsia.

I did enjoy the book (read it in an hour). I want to give the book some sort of positive review yet I am I struggling. How can I do research if my research triggers me? How do I put on some sort of emotional glasses that will filter out the tears and allow me to see the story yet not?

 The book had a  few triggers. The page or two that highlights the expectant parents meeting with an adoption agency, what they say to the expectant parents was massively disturbing to me on so many levels.

Oh, and yeah, years ago, right after I found my daughter and reunited with her father we found we both still had intense feelings for each other. We had many conversations, exchanges, and at one point her natural father says to me “It feels like we are living life backwards. Like we are putting the first part last.”  The trigger there should be obvious.

I am struggling to give the book a good review and again, that is likely because the subject matter is so close to my aortic valve. But yeah, read it. Read it if you have teenage sons or daughters. Have them read it. Discuss it. I plan to do so with my 12 year old son.

Next up on the reading list is Annie’s Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, a Pregnant Teenager.

10 Thoughts.

  1. Thanks for this recommendation – though I don’t have teenaged children, I’ll still be reading it. Already reserved it at my library to pick up this evening!

  2. I didn’t know they wrote books like this for the YA market. Where have I been? Although it may be hard, who better than you to read and review.

    • USM – You would be surprised the number of books there are in this YA market. A blog reader sent me a full list. I hope to read them all as part of my research.

  3. I’ll look into it too. I just read After, a YA novel about the “dumpster baby” phenomenon because I feel like I need to know what the discourse about these kinds of things is. I don’t recommend it to you because it’s problematic in a whole, whole lot of ways, but I’m still glad I read it because I feel like I should…

    • Thorn – Ugh. Yeah. Not sure I could do that. Read about those things. They slay me. I don’t understand that phenomenon but then again there are just as many people who don’t understand how mothers could leave their babies with strangers in hopes of that mythical “better life”. Am I that different from a woman that left her baby in a dumpster? Perhaps only a few notches above.

      • Yeah, there were many, many problematic things about that one and I wouldn’t recommend it but I still know teens will be reading it. I read The Last Part First yesterday and I’m glad I did because it was great to get a boy’s perspective and I hope it would actually get through to boys (and girls) facing similar situations. I, too, was saddened by the talk in the adoption office but it seems very realistic that he wouldn’t remember what had gone on and that everything would be manipulative and pushy. Now, what finally happened to Nia did seem unnecessarily overdramatic, but the balance between not seeing adoption as the best or only answer and seeing single fatherhood as tenable and also tough seemed good to me.

  4. Yikes, Suz. Not sure I could read those books, anymore than I can watch TV shows about adoption. I used to read and watch everything I could get my hands on. I seem to be going backward in my ability to deal with the topic.

    • Denise – Interesting that I have my various limits. I cannot do things like shows titled “Find My Family” yet I can read books and such with a bit more ease. I am sure that says something about me and my state of mind. It ebbs and flows for me. Sometimes my cards are all in and other times I am running away from the table as fast as I can. For me, there is a distinct connection between how much other emotional noise there is in my life. I can only handle so much.

  5. I don’t think you should filter! I imagine you’re bringing much to the book, not in the way that some people do, defensively, needing the book or the TV show to reflect exactly their biases and tender spots, but because you know so much about the subject. Cool.

  6. Read the book last night and agree with much of what Thorn said. Much of the adoption portion of the book did hit hard….especially when I hear the SW using the memories of my SW’s voice….

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