Reviews for First Part Last


Booklist Reviews 2003 September #1
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 6-12. Bobby, the teenage artist and single-parent dad in Johnson's Coretta Scott King Award winner, Heaven (1998), tells his story here. At 16, he's scared to be raising his baby, Feather, but he's totally devoted to caring for her, even as she keeps him up all night, and he knows that his college plans are on hold. In short chapters alternating between "now" and "then," he talks about the baby that now fills his life, and he remembers the pregnancy of his beloved girlfriend, Nia. Yes, the teens' parents were right. The couple should have used birth control; adoption could have meant freedom. But when Nia suffers irreversible postpartum brain damage, Bobby takes their newborn baby home. There's no romanticizing. The exhaustion is real, and Bobby gets in trouble with the police and nearly messes up everything. But from the first page, readers feel the physical reality of Bobby's new world: what it's like to hold Feather on his stomach, smell her skin, touch her clenched fists, feel her shiver, and kiss the top of her curly head. Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms. ((Reviewed September 1, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Fall
Sixteen-year-old Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, had planned to put their baby, Feather, up for adoption, but Feather becomes impossible to relinquish after, as the reader learns at book's end, pregnancy-related eclampsia leaves Nia in an irreversible coma. What resonate in this prequel to the Coretta Scott King Awardûwinning [cf2]Heaven[cf1] are the sacrifices Bobby makes for Feather's sake. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2003 #4
Feather's birth has completely changed sixteen-year-old Bobby's life. He and his girlfriend, Nia, had planned to put up the baby for adoption, but Feather becomes impossible to relinquish after, as the reader learns at book's end, pregnancy-related eclampsia leaves Nia in an irreversible coma. What elevates this scenario above melodrama is Johnson's unique storytelling strategy: she follows the arc of Bobby's consciousness in alternating short chapters labeled "then" (before Feather's birth) and "now." This allows the reader to measure how far sleep-starved single dad Bobby has fallen, psychically--and how far he's come. While this prequel to the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Heaven isn't bereft of humor (Nia's parents' home is "so neat and clean you could probably make soup in the toilet"), what resonates are the sacrifices Bobby makes for Feather's sake. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2003 June #1
"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) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 June #3
In this companion novel, Johnson's fans learn just how Bobby, the single father for whom Marley baby-sits in Heaven, landed in that small town in Ohio. Beginning his story when his daughter, Feather, is just 11 days old, 16-year-old Bobby tells his story in chapters that alternate between the present and the bittersweet past that has brought him to the point of single parenthood. Each nuanced chapter feels like a poem in its economy and imagery; yet the characters-Bobby and the mother of his child, Nia, particularly, but also their parents and friends, and even newborn Feather-emerge fully formed. Bobby tells his parents about the baby ("Not moving and still quiet, my pops just starts to cry") and contrasts his father's reaction with that of Nia's father ("He looks straight ahead like he's watching a movie outside the loft windows"). The way he describes Nia and stands by her throughout the pregnancy conveys to readers what a loving and trustworthy father he promises to be. The only misstep is a chapter from Nia's point of view, which takes readers out of Bobby's capable hands. But as the past and present threads join in the final chapter, readers will only clamor for more about this memorable father-daughter duo-and an author who so skillfully relates the hope in the midst of pain. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 January #1
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.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2004 October
Gr 8 Up-In this lyrical novel, 16-year-old Bobby narrates his journey into teenage fatherhood, struggling to balance school, parenting, and friends who simply do not comprehend his new role and his breathtaking love for his daughter. Winner of the 2004 SRT Coretta Scott King Author Award and the 2004 YALSA Michael L. Printz Award for literary excellence. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2003 June
Gr 8 Up-Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don't comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby's relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy. Bobby's parents are well-developed characters, Nia's upper-class family somewhat less so. Flashbacks lead to the revelation in the final chapters that Nia is in an irreversible coma caused by eclampsia. This twist, which explains why Bobby is raising Feather on his own against the advice of both families, seems melodramatic. So does a chapter in which Bobby snaps from the pressure and spends an entire day spray painting a picture on a brick wall, only to be arrested for vandalism. However, any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking. Teens who enjoyed Margaret Bechard's Hanging on to Max (Millbrook, 2002) will love this book, too, despite very different conclusions. The attractive cover photo of a young black man cradling an infant will attract readers.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2003 June
Bobby spends his sixteenth birthday with his friends K-Boy and J.L., skipping school, visiting the Empire State Building, and eating junk food. That evening, Bobby's girlfriend Nia tells him that she is pregnant, forever changing their lives. Nia's parents and a social worker convince the teenage couple that they should give their baby up for adoption, but when disaster strikes Nia, Bobby ends up a single father. Told through Bobby's eyes in spare, eloquent prose, this affecting prequel to Heaven (Simon & Schuster, 1998/VOYA February 1999) is no stereotypical teenage pregnancy story but the heartfelt tale of one young man's decision to keep his child, no matter the consequences. A quintessential urban teen, Bobby is not the conventional tough guy; he conveys his emotions of sorrow and love in touching, realistic ways. Bobby's thoughts on the adults in his life honestly reflect both his appreciation for and confusion about their actions. Bobby is quite mature and insightful, and his love for his daughter, Feather, is genuine. One of the story's finest features is the touching portrayal of a young father's love for his baby. This compelling tale of a teenage father provides a stellar addition to young adult fiction. Bobby makes mistakes, and his life is very difficult, but his courage, love, and hope enable him to carry on. The supportive adults and friends in his life aid him as well. Realistic characters, an honest look at teen pregnancy, and Bobby's thoughts and dreams combine in a wonderful novel sure to appeal to most young adult readers.-Rachelle Bilz. 5Q 4P J S Copyright 2003 Voya Reviews

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