Sunday, May 3, 2009

The First Part Last

Johnson, Angela. 2003. THE FIRST PART LAST. New York: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. ISBN 0689849222

THE FIRST PART LAST is the journey of a couple who are both sixteen years old and discovers they are pregnant. Bobby is the narrator of the book and is like any other New York teen wanting to hang out with his friends, eat pizza, and spend time with his girlfriend. This shocking news makes Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, face some hard decisions which will change their lives forever.

As I began to read this novel I was slightly confused by the chapters because each chapter alternates from being told in the present then to the past. So at the beginning it is hard to keep track of the characters and story but by the time I was to the last five chapters I saw the incredible vision of the author when laying out the novel. This is the most obvious difference in Angela Johnson’s writing compared to other authors of this genre. Johnson also has a way with words when explaining what the character is thinking, “If we give up our baby up, we could get on with it. Go to college. Go on spring break. Go to parties. Come home on breaks with dirty laundry like my brothers did, and eat everything in the cabinets and fridge.”

The main character Bobby could not exemplify a more modern day teenager that young adult readers could relate to. As the readers reads the chapters from the past Bobby is immature and is unsure about himself and the decisions he has to make. Once the baby is born he gains self confidence in himself and his ability to be a father. The other character that makes this book is the baby, Feather. She came into this world when her parents were still not decided what they were going to do with her and then eventually helped her father become a man. Nia, the girlfriend and mom, is not talked about extensively throughout the story until late in the book.

I had mixed feelings about this book because it was somewhat hard to follow with the past and present going on at the same time. I also struggled with relating to the characters but at the same time I could understand the decision that they were going to make. It was not until the last 30 pages when the story unfolded that I truly understood the characters and the story plot. When I finished the book I have a sense of peace knowing that Bobby was going to make it work with Feather and there were reasons above Nia that was keeping her away. “I can tell you how it feels sitting in the window with Feather pointing out the creek that rolls past our backyard.”

*Children’s Literature- “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.”
*School Library Journal- “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.”
*Kirkus Reviews- “It's the tale of one young man and his choices, which many young readers will appreciate and enjoy.”
*Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Award
*Winner of the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award

*Read other novels by Angela Johnson:
-HEAVEN. ISBN 9780689822902
-ONE OF THREE. ISBN 9780531070611
-THE ROLLING STORE. ISBN 9780531300152
*Students write a response to the novel.
*Conduct an author study on Angela Johnson: where she is from, how did she get into writing, and what awards have her books won.

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Gantos, Jack. 2000. JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. Canada: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. ISBN 03743999891

JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL is about a boy named Joey, who is hyperactive and is taking medication for the problem, and he is going to live with his father for summer. His mother is apprehensive about this visit because she knows that Carter, Joey’s dad, is a grown up version of Joey with his own problems that need to be handled. Throughout the summer Joey gains the affection of his father by being the star player of the baseball team but this new found relationship tests Joey on what he believes in. The last half of the book is Joey without his medication and the trouble he gets himself into.

According to the textbook definition of contemporary realistic fiction a book should feel current, and could happen it today’s world. This could not be a better definition for JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL because the book deals with issues of divorce, attention deficit disorder, medication, family struggles, and young children. The main character Joey goes through an emotional battle throughout this book that many young kids can identify with. At the start of the novel Joey is hoping that he can bring his parents back together once his dad sees how well behaved he is now that he is on medication. He tries so hard to get the love and respect from his father that he makes decision that he knows is wrong but will please his dad. Carter, Joey’s fathers, is a complex character that is hyperactive, an alcoholic, possible abusive, and delusional. I love the fact that Carter has his life changing moment at a park called Storybook Land in front of the Humpty Dumpty exhibit. Gantos uses this illustration to show how child like and immature Carter is at this point in his life. “I didn’t want to be a pathetic broken egg with everyone trying and failing to put me back together again.”

Most of the book takes place in Carter’s home or locations around his small town, storybook land, the golf course, mall, baseball fields, and the sporting goods store. The baseball fields are where the climax of the story takes place when Joey has finally had enough of Carter’s yelling and high expectations. “Don’t disappoint me, Joey. Don’t be a Humpty Dumpty on me and crack up.” Another very interesting scene that takes place in the story is at the mall when Joey’s medication has worn off and the reader sees first hand how different Joey is when he doesn’t have medicine. As Joey is walking around the mall he finds a few mannequins that look like “perfect” kids and there is nothing more that Joey wants then besides to be normal. So he dresses up in beach outfits and goes and stands next to the mannequins waiting for someone to spy him and think he is perfect too.

Ganots writing is simple, clear and believable. There are times when the book is quite funny, such as Joey covering himself in shaving cream to try to scare his grandmother. Other times the mood of the book is dark, sad, and depressing. Although this story could happen in the real world I was sad to read an unhappy ending for Joey and his father. I guess the reader can be satisfied in the fact that Joey at least finds out where he was from and who he is going to be in his future. My honest impression of the book is that is gives readers a real life look at a modern day family of divorce but you will end the book disappointed.

*Publishers Weekly- “Like its predecessor, this high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease. Struggling to please everyone even as he sees himself hurtling toward disaster, Joey emerges as a sympathetic hero, and his heart of gold never loses its shine.”
*Children’s Literature- “Gantos' writing excellence shows in the way he allows the reader to draw conclusions, while Joey only experiences situations. Gantos still gives us what we love best about Joey—neither medicine nor a bad situation can take away his comic responses. This artist has created a satisfying follow-up.”
*Kirkus Reviews- “As if Joey didn't get into enough trouble in his unforgettable debut, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (1998), Gantos has him wig out again in this sad, scary, blackly funny sequel. His hyperactivity under control thanks to new meds, Joey is looking forward to a six-week stay with his father Carter, hoping for some bonding. Unfortunately, his mother's warning: ". . . he can be, you know, wired like you, only he's bigger." understates the case.”
*Newberry Honor Book

*Read the other books from Jack Gantos about Joey Pigza:
-WHAT WOULD JOEY DO? ISBN 9780060544034
-I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA. ISBN 9780374399412
*Allow students to listen to one of the novels on an audio book.
*Discuss with students the many conflict that Joey faced in the story, and have students write in their journal a time when they faced conflict and how did they resolve it.
*Students can take online quiz about their comprehension of the book: