Bobby is a sixteen-year-old father who has taken on the responsibility of caring for his infant daughter all on his own. He doesn’t get any help from his mom, his brothers have moved away, and his dad lives on the other side of town. Told in sparse, feeling first-person, the book interchanges between ‘then’ and ‘now’ (‘now’ being when Bobby has an infant daughter to take care of and ‘then’ being mostly in the year prior). I was hooked right from the first page.
Every time I passed The First Part Last in the library, I had the strong impression that it wanted to be read, and when I saw that it was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Award, that sealed the deal—Coretta Scott King, of course, was married to Martin Luther King Junior, and I highly recommend the book Stride Toward Freedom (about the Montgomery bus boycott of December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956) for a revitalized glimpse into the sort of courageous, loving, and incredible people that they were (that, however, is for another post). I could have devoured The First Part Last in one sitting—as it was, I devoured it all in one day, and this despite repeated efforts to close the book and attend to other things. No matter what, it always ended up back in my hands (at one point I was holding the book in one hand and stirring a bubbling pot of pasta with the other—I couldn’t put it down). Not knowing much about it going in had a real effect on how the bits and pieces of the story came together, and I want to leave that option open for prospective readers—but I do want to say that reading about a teenage father taking care of his baby, staying up with her all night, changing diapers, getting up three hours before school to bus her to the sitter, and just loving her so much was absolutely something else; “…then I know I’m being a man, not just some kid who’s upset and wants his way. I’m being a man” (this line comes right at the moment in the story when he decides to keep her). So many things about this book stayed with me long after reading it.