Week 11: Growing Up
Books: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson &
Born Confused by Tanjua Desai Hidier
The First Part Last is a surprisingly short, non-preachy book about teen pregnancy kinds of issues. It focuses on the teen father, rather than the mother, and how he is raising the child. It isn't because the mother can't, or doesn't want to raise the baby that the father is, but rather the fact that she can't because she's in a 'persistent vegetative state' brought on by eclampsia gone wrong.
When Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, found out she was pregnant, they didn't know what to do. They told his parents, then told hers. In the end, they made the choice to give the baby up for adoption, and everything was all ready to go, until Nia developed complications and lapsed into a coma. Bobby then decided to keep the baby, in part because she was all he had left of Nia, and in part because he felt responsible for her (Feather).
I liked how it doesn't pull any punches-the father, Bobby, is tired, can't always think straight, and is pretty much completely responsible for his baby daughter, Feather. Bobby's mother doesn't help out much because she believes that Feather is 300% Bobby's responsibility; it also doesn't appear to be in her nature. Bobby's father is more likely to want to help, but he lives all the way across the city, and so isn't a immediate presence. Johnson's writing is sparse, but packs a wallop. The one thing that drove me batty about the book was the continuous going back and forth between the 'now' and 'then'. I don't mind it if a book starts off in the 'now', and then backs up to the 'then' to explain how the 'now' came about. But for the love of books, it doesn't need to happen forty-two thousand times (give or take a thousand).
Born Confused is a book I thought I wouldn't like. At ALL. It just didn't even LOOK appealing to me, and the length! Wow-500 pages, really? But, I was going to soldier through it because one of my friends was doing a presentation on it; that's just how I am.
So, with dragging feet, I started the book, and was surprised at how much it resonated with me. I really liked it. I could just see it all playing out, hear the sounds, see the brillant colors, and watch the absolute life-changing shift for Dimple.
I thought it was interesting that 'normal' American life was presented as rather colorless and soulless compared to Indian life, which was more underground. It wasn't an overt, "Hey, our culture is better than yours", but it was certainly a celebration of a different culture than what is often found.
Who hasn't either had or known a friend like Gwyn? I thought it ironic that Gwyn wanted to be Indian like Dimple, and sort of believed that it could happen just by wearing Dimple's clothes. I also wondered if Gwyn would've been so eager to want that if she wasn't a blonde white girl; in a couple of my undergrad classes, it was called 'white privilege'. Would she say the same had she not been white? Even if she did say something along the lines of "You don't think I have problems too?", all I could think is, "Honey, you have no idea."
One of the best insights I took away was "Sometimes you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself." I totally get that. There were so many things in this book that made me stop and think about the parallels in my own life. I so remember my parents being dumber than a box of rocks (with the lid off)...all the way until they weren't (they thought it was hilarious when I told them so). I've pretty much always been just like I am now, so I didn't have a big shift like Dimple. But, when I was a teenager in high school, trying to figure out where my place was, I remember sometimes wishing I could just go along to get along...but I'm just not wired that way, which has actually served me better in the long run. Who knows if I'd get as much out of the book if I were to read it again. So, I'm not going to. I've learned enough along the way to let the book be magic as it is.