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The First Part Last by Angela Johnson | Review

the first past last angela johnson
the first past last angela johnson
the first past last angela johnson


Highlights: Bobby's relationship with his infant daughter is authentic and beautiful.
Synopsis: Winner of the 2004 Printz Award, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson is the story of a teen father raising his infant daughter alone.
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11/ 14

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This short novel offers a view of teen fatherhood that is underrepresented in young adult literature.


Some argue that the novel perpetuates stereotypes about urban teenagers.

Posted November 4, 2013 by

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“I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They’d be all knowing in the beginning and all innocent in the end.”

The First Part Last tells the story of how Bobby became, and becomes, a teenage father in the city. The story is told on two timelines. The first is after the birth of Feather, as Bobby copes with his new life. In this part of the story, the reader is not aware of Bobby’s whole situation. Where is the baby’s mother? What is Bobby’s long-term plan? Bobby reveals the stress and struggle of parenting a newborn, from his own mother’s refusal to help to the financial stress. The present-day chapters of the novel could have easily slid into clichéd-YA-problem-novel territory, but Johnson skillfully crafts Bobby as an insightful, likable protagonist who remains sympathetic throughout the novel.

The second part of the story, told in the alternating chapters, explains how Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, became parents. Their love story, their realization that life would change, and their struggle with the decision to give the baby up for adoption lead to an understanding of how Bobby ended up in his present-day situation.

This book is a coming-of-age tale for the modern times. Bobby walks a fine line between accepting his new life and pushing against it. He hasn’t chosen the path he’s on, but he must be responsible for his decisions and their consequences – including the unpredictable ones. Readers will experience a range of emotions in this short novel, which speaks to Angela Johnson’s incredible writing.

The First Part Last may be short, but this story packs a lot of punch. Apparently the Printz Award committee thought so, too, when they awarded it with the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award. Angela Johnson was also awarded the Coretta Scott King award for an outstanding African-American author in the same year. The First Part Last is actually the second book in a trilogy of books, starting with Heaven (1998) and ending with Sweet, Hereafter (2009). However, I strongly recommend reading the  books out of order and starting with The First Part Last. 


This fall in What’s New in YA, I‘ve been covering the Michael L. Printz award and the notion of a literary fiction genre in young adult literature. Interested in more Printz-caliber reading? Check out my other reviews of Printz-winning novels:

What’s New In YA will be celebrating the Printz award all this fall. Have a favorite? Share your thoughts!


Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.


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