The Last Part First

Posted: February 28, 2013 in On Novels
Tags: , , , ,

“Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Man, what a week it’s been. Mid-term is pretty much college student-ese for “ride the wave until break”. This is the halfway point, as well as the point where apathy begins to rise exponentially. I’m saying this all because my reading for YA lit this week wound up falling to the back-burner in favor of some other stuff, like a mountain of a 4-hour online midterm for American Lit, or studying for a test we have in my Ethics class.. the Tuesday we get back from break. I can hardly contain my excitement </sarcasm>.

Backburner aside, I give The First Part Last props in two different areas: the first being that Bobby and his friends aren’t depicted as thugs, gang members, “gangstas”, or any of that stupid shit that always has to be included in “urban” novels. Shockingly, some people do lead normal lives that have nothing to do with killing one another (though I’ve considered it..). The second area I speak of is the fact that this is a novel from the perspective of the single father.. not the mother. Neither of the parents here are depicted as evil, villainous, or cowardly. The moral of the story seems to be “shit happens”, but instead of the apathetic version of it, it’s instead “shit happens, and sometimes you’re stuck with it!”

Um. I think biologically, we’re obliged to consider it less disturbing.

Let me just say that a tale like this, however simultaneously depressing and inspiring it may be, is like a horror story to me. Did you know that last year, the projected cost of raising a kid from birth to age 18 was $250,000 dollars? $250,000 dollars! I know I don’t have that kind of cash burning a hole in my pocket, and I already get too little sleep as it is. The genepool and I have come to the agreement that I will be making no contributions to said pool.

Back to the story, Bobby’s struggle is a noble one. He decides not to run from his problem (as the stereotype and our absent-minded society would have you believe), but instead buckles down to handle it. Something this novel made me think of – I don’t think dads get enough credit. Bobby is downright terrified, and wants nothing more than to have his old life back – to pass the buck to his mom and get off scot-free. But he doesn’t. He spits in the face of every “absent black father” stereotype, doesn’t preach (abortion is brought up in the novel along with adoption), and he doesn’t skip town or kill himself.

Is this racist or am I just reading it wrong?

In it’s entirety, I enjoyed “The First Part Last”. It offered up a familiar situation in our society from an unfamiliar perspective. I may be slightly biased, since I am, last I checked, a man, but regardless. Back to the backburner!


  1. Elisabeth says:

    You identify two reasons why I like to include this book (sometimes!) on the (ever-changing) syllabus for this course. All too often, YA novels with African-American characters focus on one of three plots: urban gang life; the Civil Rights movement; or slavery. There are many, many other stories to tell.

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