Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
ZJ’s dad isn’t just ZJ’s hero, he’s everyone’s hero. As a professional football player, Zachariah Johnson is the star of the team, and at home, he’s the star of the neighborhood. ZJ and all of his friends love to hang out with Zachariah until one day, ZJ’s dad stops remembering things, like his own son’s name. He also becomes angry all the time and has headaches that keep him in bed all day. ZJ’s mom says his dad is sick because he hit his head so much playing football, but it is hard for ZJ to fully understand how his favorite sport, the one that made his dad so happy, could have caused this complete personality change.
Taking place in the early 2000’s when CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was first acknowledged and researched, Before the Ever After shows the impacts of the professional football on the physical and mental health of a young black family. The story is told in verse and explores ZJ’s observations and feelings about how CTE has changed his family’s life. ZJ longs to go back to before his dad’s headaches, and creates several coping mechanisms to deal with his quasi-loss of a father. This book is heart-wrenching but beautiful as ZJ finds his new normal, relying on his friends that stick around even after his dad’s health declines.
I would recommend this book to all young readers and their parents. The book’s predominant theme is grief and coping, and may be a helpful tool for children experiencing a form of grief in their own lives. The story is filled with immeasurable love alongside the family’s hardships. Jacqueline Woodson was recently awarded the 2021 Coretta Scott King Book Award, and signed copies of Before the Ever After are currently in stock.
Special Thanks to Libro.fm for allowing me to listen to a free copy of Before the Ever After.
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