A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{July 25, 2011}   First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Plot: On his 16th birthday, Bobby finds his girl Nia in front of his apartment building and her news will change his life: she is pregnant with his child. Months later, Bobby is taking care of newborn Feather by himself, struggling to manage school, parenthood and complete exhaustion. Only his love for his daughter keeps him going. As the narrative shifts between Then: Nia’s pregnancy and Now: Bobby and Feather’s life together, we are left with two pression questions: Where is Nia? and Can Bobby handle being a single teen father?

This review is based on the audiobook read by Khalipa Oldjohn.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking story written with real skill. Stories about teen mothers are common enough but a single teen father was new and fascinating to me. Bobby’s feelings: his fear, his desperation, his sense of loss, his exhaustion (both physical and emotional) and his love for Feather, are so honest and raw. He became real and dear to me. In one scene, Bobby takes Feather to the pedeatrician, a doctor who he still shares with his daughter, and struggles to resist the urge to ask for a note like he used to when he didn’t want to do something, so he could just sleep and hang out with his friends. This captured his situation for me: a boy still wanting to be a kid but struggling with the responsibilities of an adult as best he can.

It is a very short book and consequently a short audiobook: less than 2 hours long. I listened to it twice. I love Khalipa Oldjohn’s voice; he really brought Bobby to life for me.

If I had one complaint, it’s that Nia never really comes through as a fully realized character, not in the way Bobby does. She is notable in her absence, which is narratively significant, but I still wish I could picture her as more than a hungry, dancing owner of many hats and sun glasses. I never get a sense of how she feels about all this. The one chapter from her perspective is jarring and seems to come out of nowhere; it didsn’t even clarify my questions about her. But in Johnson’s defense, this book is not about her; it is about Bobby and Feather and she captures them perfectly.

A great read (or listen), well deserving of its Prinz and Coretta Scott King awards.

Challenges: Quirky Brown Reading Challenge (3)


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