Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Cover image for Before the Ever After

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399545436)

ZJ’s father is a famous football star, a father who is everyone’s favorite person, who spends time with ZJ creating music together. He is like a father to ZJ’s friends too, someone that they can talk to and turn to. But something is changing. His father is getting headaches, becoming angry all the time and having trouble remembering things. ZJ must navigate life without really having his beloved father around, as they learn that it is the many tackles that his father sustained that have damaged his brain. Poignantly, sometimes his father returns to who he used to be, but that just reminds ZJ of what he has lost.

Told in Woodson’s dynamic verse, this book is stunningly written with a focus on ZJ himself and his present situation but also flashbacks to his father before he started having symptoms. The book shows a Black family filled with rich love and real attention to each child. The loss is made palpable on the page, the impotent rage at what is happening and the extended family of friends and other football players who care but can’t truly understand what is happening.

Dealing with the impact of head injuries on the lives of professional athletes and their families, this book is firmly modern and important. Woodson keeps the focus on ZJ’s personal experience, making the book deeply personal so that the true loss can be felt more deeply. She explores the emotions directly, not turning away from the ache and pain.

Another magnificent verse novel from a master of the form. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

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