In Heaven and The First Part Last, Angela Johnson explores the meaning of family and of parent-child relationships. Heaven was published first, in 1998, and five years later, Johnson produced The First Part Last as a prequel.
In Heaven, fourteen-year-old Marley has it all. Heaven, Ohio—where Marley lives happily with Momma, Pops, and her brother, Butchy—is the essence of small-town bliss. It is quiet, safe, friendly, and traditional. Marley goes to school and enjoys spending time with her best friend, Shoogy Maple, whose family is “perfect.” Frequently, Marley’s parents send her to the store to wire money via Western Union to Pops’s twin brother, Jack. Uncle Jack writes Marley letters about his ramblings though the Midwest with his dog, Boy. Marley babysits for Feather Morris and becomes close friends with her father, Bobby, who lives above a frame shop in Heaven and paints billboards for a living. Sometimes Marley, Bobby, and Feather take Bobby’s car and visit Amish country. Bobby reveals that he identifies with the isolation of the Amish.
Suddenly, Marley’s tranquil world is shattered. A letter addressed to Monna Floyd arrives from a burned-out church in Alabama. The letter explains that records have been destroyed in the fire and need to be replaced. The letter reveals that Momma and Pops are not Marley’s biological parents. Jack is her father, and her real mother, Christine,...
(The entire section is 575 words.)