The Barnes & Noble Review
Author Angela Johnson follows up her Coretta Scott King Awardwinning novel, Heaven, with this absorbing prequel about a single teen struggling to accept his new paternal role.
In chapters that flash between Bobby's relationship with Nia leading up to Feather's birth (entitled "then") and his life now that he's a father on his own ("now"), Johnson paints an honest, vivid portrait of a man straddling the line between childhood and adulthood. Throughout the book, Bobby fights his own sleep deprivation and desire to hand off Feather to someone else for caretaking, and in one tense episode, he takes off to go spray-painting while his daughter is looked after by a neighbor. Chapter by chapter the events surrounding Bobby's situation become clearer, and after the narrative reaches a pivotal chapter (called "Nia") that marks Bobby's transformation into single parenthood, the true surprise comes near the end, when we learn what has happened to Feather's mom that eventually spurs Bobby to move to Heaven, Ohio.
In a powerful, spare read that will grip you on several levels, Johnson delivers a worthy continuation of Heaven. The characters' relationship dynamics -- Bobby with Nia, his parents, and Feather -- are deep yet subtle, while the book's main character is one not often found in young adult literature. The First Part Last is an original read that will stir you to the core.
A 16-year-old tells the story of how he became a single dad.In a starred review of this companion to Heaven, PW said, "The author skillfully relates the hope in the midst of pain." Ages 12-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Narrated in first-person point of view from the perspective of Bobby, a young, black male, this adolescent novel depicts life before and after having a child. By showing the tremendous responsibility that accompanies teenage parenthood, Johnson attempts to compel teenagers to evaluate the ramifications of premarital sex and pregnancy. Because most stories are written from the perspective of the teenage mother, the author presents her story in a unique way by writing from the viewpoint of a teenage father. The cover of the novel depicts a young African-American male holding an infant, which foreshadows the content of the novel. Stylistically, by titling the chapters consistently "now" and "then," except for one chapter is titled "Nia" and the final chapter titled "heaven," Johnson compels the reader to examine closely the changes that occur in Bobby's life. The title as well the book's division into four parts help emphasize the tremendous impact that Feather, Bobby's baby daughter, has on the young protagonist. By setting the book in New York, Angela Johnson helps debunk many common stereotypes. The entire novel attempts to teach about life, growth, and maturity. Johnson does a good job of showing the impact that having a child can have on life. 2003, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 12 up.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2003: On the cover of this book is an appealing photograph of a young black man with a tiny infant. This picture introduces the novel to the YA readerhere is the story of a teenage father, loving his little daughter. How did this happen? Angela Johnson tells us the story through the narrative of the father, Bobby, in a series of vignettes "then" and "now." For Johnson's readers, there is even a connection to her previous novel, Heaven, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. There is believable language, with occasional swearing and some references to Bobby's sexual experiences with Nia, the baby's mother. Bobby is an urban teenager from a middle-class family, with parents who truly care about him and his baby. Stress over the baby's arrival, however, causes the parents' separation, and this, of course, doesn't help Bobby cope. Bobby and Nia had planned to give the baby up for adoption, but then tragedy strikes Nia, and everyone's future is changed. Bobby is a loving father who adores his baby even though it seems impossible to take good care of her, go to school and prepare for college, and stay in touch with his good friends. Johnson has a way of getting to her readers' emotions with few words, creating characters we really care about. Her young people are thoughtful, conscientious, and lovingcertainly with failings, but trying to do better. (An ALA Best Book for YAs and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.) KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 132p., Ages 12 to 18.
I'm really glad that Johnson wrote this prequel to Heaven. Bobby was a character that everyone wanted to know more about. This well-written book is not like anything that I've ever read before. It goes fast and has realistic fiction, romance, and suspense all in one. Most teen pregnancy books are about what the girl goes through, but this one is written from a different, exciting angle. Both girls and boys can read it. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Simon & Schuster, 144p,
Teens' Top Ten nominator, age 13
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Angela Johnson's Printz Award-winning novel (S & S, 2003) is perfectly suited to the audiobook medium, and Khalipa Oldjohn narrates this first person tale with poignant authenticity of tone and pacing. At 16, Bobby struggles to be a father to his newborn daughter while keeping up with school, maintaining his boyhood friendships, and trying to live up to his parents' expectations. Told in alternating passages of "Now" and "Then," the back-story that has brought Bobby to this point falls steadily but deliberately into place, with the revelation of why Bobby is a single father arriving only near the very end. In spite of its brevity, the story is complex and satisfying. Bobby is both boy and man, responsible and overwhelmed, near panic and able to plan an intelligent and loving future for Feather, the daughter he adores and nurtures. In audio format, this story can readily be shared in just a class period or two and will grab listeners immediately, making it an ideal subject for class discussion. It will also be instantly popular for leisure reading outside of school.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
"The rules: If she hollers, she is mine. If she needs to be changed, she is always mine. In the dictionary next to 'sitter,' there is not a picture of Grandma. It's time to grow up. Too late, you're out of time. Be a grown-up." Sixteen-year-old Bobby has met the love of his life: his daughter. Told in alternating chapters that take place "then" and "now," Bobby relates the hour-by-hour tribulations and joys of caring for a newborn, and the circumstances that got him there. Managing to cope with support, but little help, from his single mother (who wants to make sure he does this on his own), Bobby struggles to maintain friendships and a school career while giving his daughter the love and care she craves from him at every moment. By narrating from a realistic first-person voice, Johnson manages to convey a story that is always complex, never preachy. The somewhat pat ending doesn't diminish the impact of this short, involving story. It's the tale of one young man and his choices, which many young readers will appreciate and enjoy. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
U.S. News and World Report Johnson has carved a niche writing realistically about young people's issues.
SLJ, starred review Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting.
Publishers Weekly, starred review Readers will only clamor for more.
Booklist, starred review Poetry.
Read an ExcerptFrom Part I
My mom says that I didn't sleep through the night until I was eight years old. It didn't make any difference to her 'cause she was up too, listening to the city. She says she used to come into my room, sit cross-legged on the floor by my bed, and play with my Game Boy in the dark.
We never talked.
I guess I thought she needed to be there. And she must have thought her being there made everything all better for me.
I get it now. I really get it.
We didn't need to say it. We didn't have to look at each other or even let the other one know we saw each other in the glow of the Game Boy.
So last week when it looked like Feather probably wasn't ever going to sleep through the night, I lay her on my stomach and breathed her in. My daughter is eleven days old.
And that sweet new baby smell...the smell of baby shampoo, formula, and my mom's perfume. It made me cry like I hadn't since I was a little kid.
It scared the hell out of me. Then, when Feather moved on my stomach like one of those mechanical dolls in the store windows at Christmas, the tears dried up. Like that.
I thought about laying her in the middle of my bed and going off to find my old Game Boy, but I didn't.
Things have to change.
I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But 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 innocent in the end.
Then everybody could end their life on their momma or daddy's stomach in a warm room, waiting for the soft morning light.
And this is how I turned sixteen....
Skipped school with my running buddies, K-Boy and J. L., and went to Mineo's for a couple of slices. Hit a matinee and threw as much popcorn at each other as we ate. Then went to the top of the Empire State Building 'cause I never had before.
I said what everybody who'd ever been up there says.
"Everybody looks like ants."
Later on that night my pops, Fred, made my favorite meal cheese fries and ribs at his restaurant. I caught the subway home and walked real slow 'cause I knew my mom had a big-ass cake for me when I got there, and I was still full. (In my family, special days mean nonstop food.)
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."
Then she handed me the balloon.
Copyright © 2003 by Angela Johnson