The First Part Last by Angela Johnson 2003 (Book 2 in Heaven trilogy)
Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster
IQ "This little thing with the perfect face and hands doing nothing but counting on me. And me wanting nothing else but to run crying into my own mom's room and have her do the whole thing. It's not going to happen, and my heart aches as I straighten out her hands and trace the delicate lines. Then kiss them. Her hands are translucent and warm. Baby hands. Warm, sweet-smelling baby hands. And all I can do is kiss them and pull her close so she won't see my face and how scared I an. When there's nothing you can do, do nothing. But then I realize. I've done it. I know something. I know something about this little thing that is my baby. I know that she needs me. I know what she does when she just needs me. No big screaming thing. Just a whimper, then she only wants me." Bobby pg.15-16
Bobby learned on his sixteenth birthday that he is about to be a father. His girlfriend Nia isn't sure if she's going to keep the baby or not and Bobby doesn't interfere with her decision. The months leading up to the birth are tumultuous, there's lots of tears, reflection, some laughter and love.
Short summary I know but it's a short book (132 pages, short sentences). I was not aware that this is the second book in the Heaven trilogy, but I would have rather started with this book anyway. Based on my understanding, each book in the trilogy can be read as a stand-alone, this one certainly can. I suspected that I would tear up while I read this book, but I didn't. However, this book did move me. How can you not sympathize and admire a young father who decides to take care of his baby daughter, Feather? The most tender moments are the ones in which Bobby is home alone, taking care of his daughter. He talks to her and he talks about her. He's afraid of messing up, but he can't imagine giving Feather up to any one. In addition to loving Bobby's interactions with his daughter, I was cheered by how he reacted to Nia's announcement. Bobby is shocked and upset and obviously, he does not want to be a father. But he never tries to influence Nia's decision about the baby and I really admired that. If she wants an abortion, he'll go with her, if she wants to give the baby up, he'll do what needs to be done and if she decides to raise the baby, he will help her out. I also loved that Bobby still loved Nia. Their relationship was not only physical and while the pregnancy does put a strain on their relationship, they work through it. Bobby is patient with Nia's mood swings and he feels bad about the situation he put them in.
I was skeptical as to how much character development would occur, especially amongst the secondary characters. But surprisingly, I closed the book feeling as though I had personally gotten to know Bobby's two best friends, his girlfriend and his parents. The only two characters who seemed to disappear were Nia's parents. They had a big influence in her life and I was puzzled as to why Bobby rarely mentioned them. The author does not try and keep the story suspenseful and I appreciated that. It's fairly easy to pick up that something tragic has happened, the question is, what exactly? There is one random chapter told from Nia's point of view that I didn't fully appreciate, but I dealt with it because I was so wrapped up in the story. I think I walked away from this story with immense respect for all parents, single or not, young or old. They are truly amazing (well most of them).
The First Part Last is probably the first book I've read about teenage pregnancy that does not discuss abstinence or protection. We are never told if Bobby and Nia didn't use protection or if the condom broke. This didn't bother me in the slightest because what does it matter how the pregnancy happened? They are going to have a baby and I was far more interested in how they would adapt and raise their child and the author seemed to recognize that. I liked that Bobby was a middle class teen who had a sort of support system. His mother isn't going to help, but his father makes more of an effort. Both approaches are good and Bobby is trying to find a balance between the two. He knows Feather is his responsibility, but every now and then he wants a break, some sleep, to hang with his buddies. Bobby must some foolish mistakes, but so do we all. He bounces back, sometimes it takes him a little while to realize he made a mistake, but once he does, he tries to make it up. The responsibility he feels for his daughter will leave a mark on any reader and reminds us not to expect every young father to be a deadbeat. The writing is poetic and flows along, alternating between "then" (while Nia is pregnant) and the "now" (raising Feather). The author keeps it moving and is never heavy handed, she simply shows that a father's role is very important and that being a parent is hard, hard work. I can't recommend this book enough. Thank you to everyone who told me to read it! Obviously, a favorite of 2010.
Disclosure: The Library really came through for me on this one :)