Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last is an excellent book that could be used to help teach many life lessons. Perhaps the most import lesson for students would be; no one should judge a book by its cover. Not literally, just that on one should believe in the typical stereotyping that is rampant in the media and traditional social values.
Bobby, a sixteen-year-old black man, finds himself unable to indulge in the stereotypical activities basketball and more basketball, or crime and drugs as some may think. Instead, he is forced into a full time job years beyond his adolescent maturity — being a father. Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, had decided to give away their child because they themselves were children. Then, Nia suffers complications and is in a permanent vegetative state. Bobby elects to keep his newborn, Feather. The traditional single parent family roles are reversed with Bobby becoming the primary caregiver. Also, the family roles suggest that the girl’s parents should be more supportive and Bobby’s parents would be less supportive given that they were divorced. However, just the opposite happens. Nia’s parents do not wish to help Bobby while his own parents try there best to make their son into a man as he raises his daughter.
Aside from the assault on stereotyping, The First Part Last also holds another major lesson that all teens could learn from — the difficulty of raising a child. Bobby struggles to stay awake during several of the scenes throughout the book. He refers to the chores of raising Feather such as changing her moments after he had just gotten her clothes back on from changing her diaper. He counts the time he can sleep knowing that it will take her a certain amount of time to digest her formula before she awakens wanting more.
I can picture my own students struggling with the scope of effort and time that it takes to raise a baby. Most assume life is simple, that the instant gratification of an answer on Google will have a baby snoring in the blink of an eye. I cannot wait to ask some of my students to consider this book.
I think this book would be excellent to pair with a study of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Students could explore the ideas of innocence to those of experience as presented in both the poetry and the book.
I also think it would be an excellent book for students to create a trailer such as the following.