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Before the Ever After
Cover of Before the Ever After
Before the Ever After
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WINNER OF THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDWINNER OF THE CORETTA SCOTT KING AUTHOR AWARD National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their...
WINNER OF THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDWINNER OF THE CORETTA SCOTT KING AUTHOR AWARD National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their...
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    National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their glory days have passed and the cost of professional sports on Black bodies.

    For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that—but it doesn't make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?



  • From the book Memory like a Movie
    The memory goes like this:
    Ollie’s got the ball and he’s running across my yard when 
    Dad comes out of nowhere,
    soft tackles him to the ground.
    Then everyone is cheering and laughing because 
    we didn’t even know my dad was home.
    I thought you had a game, I say, grabbing him.
    It’s a half hug, half tackle, but
    the other guys—Darry and Daniel—hop on too 
    and Ollie’s escaped, so he jumps
    on top of all of us jumping on my dad.
    Yeah, Mr. J., Darry says. I thought we’d be watching you 
    on TV tonight.

    Coach giving me a break, my daddy says. He climbs out 
    from under,
    shaking us off like we’re feathers, not boys.
    Ah man! Darry says.
    Yeah, we all say. Ah man!

    Sometimes a player needs to rest, 
    Daddy says. 
    He looks at each of us for a long time.
    A strange look. Like he’s just now seeing us.

    Then he tosses the ball so far, we can’t even see it anymore. 

    And my boys say Ah man, you threw it too far!
    while I go back behind the garage where 
    we have a whole bunch of footballs 
    waiting and ready
    for when my daddy sends one into the abyss.

    Everybody’s Looking for a Hero  
    Once, when I was a little kid, 
    this newscaster guy asked me if 
    my dad was my biggest hero.
    I said. My dad’s just my dad.
    There was a crowd of newscasters circling around me, 
    all of them with their microphones aimed
    at my face. Maybe I was nervous, I don’t remember now.
    Maybe it was after his first Super Bowl win, his ring 
    new and shining on his finger. Me just a little kid,
    so the ring was this whole glittering world, 
    gold and black and diamonds against
    my daddy’s brown hand.
    I remember hearing the reporter say 
    Listen to those fans! Looks like everybody’s 
    found their next great hero.

    And now I’m thinking back to those times
    when the cold wind whipped around me and Mom 
    as we sat wrapped in blankets, yelling Dad’s name, 
    so close to the game, we could see the angry spit 
    spraying from the other team’s coach’s lips.
    So close, we could see the sweat on my daddy’s neck.

    And all the people around us cheering,
    all the people going around calling out his number, 
    calling out his name.
    Zachariah 44! Zachariah 44!
    Is your daddy your hero? the newscaster had asked me.
    And all these years later, just like that day, I know 
    he’s not my hero,
    he’s my dad, which means 
    he’s my every single thing.

    Day after the Game  
    Day after the game
    and Daddy gets out of bed slow. 
    His whole body, he says,
    is 223 pounds of pain
    from toes to knees, from knees to ribs, 
    every single hit he took yesterday 
    remembered in the morning.

    Before the Ever After  
    Before the ever after, there was Daddy driving 
    to Village Ice Cream
    on a Saturday night in July before preseason training.
    Before the ever after, there was Mom in the back...


  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2020

    Gr 4 Up-What happens after all your dreams come true? ZJ's dad always wanted to be a football player. Through hard work, he achieved his goal and became an NFL player and hero to many. Unfortunately, his football fame came with a price. Now he experiences debilitating headaches, mood swings, and forgetfulness brought on by one too many concussions. ZJ remembers a time before his father changed; when his father would laugh, play with him and his friends, and support him with his music. That was the before-now he lives in the after. All ZJ has is memories of the incredible man his father was, and the fear of the unknown issue causing his father's problems. Set in the early 2000s when concussion research on NFL players was at its inception, Woodson's latest novel in verse conveys that not all success stories have a fairy-tale ending. Readers will feel an immediate connection to ZJ and his group of authentic, complex friends and family. The idea of showing the dark side of fame through the experiences of a young family member is a unique perspective that will resonate with readers of all ages. ZJ's story will stay with the audience long after the last page is read. VERDICT A first choice for all collections. A unique take on sports and fame told from an unexpected perspective, and another incredible read delivered by Woodson.-Ashley Leffel, Griffin M.S., Frisco, TX

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2020
    An African American preteen finds his world upended when his father, a retired professional football player, displays symptoms of traumatic brain injury. Twelve-year-old Zachariah "ZJ" Johnson Jr. loves his dad but wonders who he would be if his dad was not a famous athlete. Although his dad is in the spotlight, he is full of love and attention for ZJ and his friends. And fortunately, ZJ has three friends who see him and not his father's shadow. "Zachariah 44" was a fearless player who suffered many concussions during his playing career. The changes in his father begin slowly and intermittently. Soon the headaches and memory lapses grow increasingly frequent and scary for ZJ and his mom, since the doctors do not seem to have any answers. As his dad slips further away, ZJ's memories of better times grow closer than ever. Using spare and lyrical language for ZJ's present-tense narration, which moves back and forth through time, Woodson skillfully portrays the confusion, fear, and sadness when a family member suffers from brain injury and the personality changes it brings. Readers see Zachariah Sr. through ZJ's eyes and agonize with him as the strong, vibrant athlete begins to fade. The well-rounded secondary characters complete a mosaic of a loving African American family and their community of friends. The tale is set in the early 2000s, as awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its catastrophic consequences was beginning to emerge. A poignant and achingly beautiful narrative shedding light on the price of a violent sport. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from July 1, 2020
    Grades 5-8 *Starred Review* Woodson delivers a poignant new novel in verse that highlights an important topic within the sports world, especially football. Zacharias Johnson, Jr. (aka ZJ) is the son of a football star. The world adores him, and to that outside world ZJ, his dad, and the rest of his family enjoy a charmed life. However, outside of the spotlight, things aren't as perfect as they appear. ZJ's father is having health issues from repeated hard hits and head injuries while playing pro. He struggles with headaches, anger, and heartbreaking memory loss. Between the myriad doctor visits, medications, and medical tests, ZJ's life quickly turns from charmed to tragic as he has to face that his father and family are forever changed. ZJ initially fights his new reality and must learn to lean on family, friends, and the support of his community in his grief in order to move forward. Woodson again shows herself to be a masterful writer, and her meaningful exploration of concussions and head injuries in football, a subject rarely broached in middle-grade fiction, provides young athletes with necessary insights into sport's less glamorous side. In addition to this, it is a novel that explores family, mental illness, and the healing that a tight-knit, loving community can provide.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: It's Jacqueline Woodson! Her name alone draws a crowd, but the publisher is doubling down with extensive marketing plans.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 10, 2020
    National Book Award winner Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) provides a beautiful and heart-wrenching story in her latest middle grade novel. Twelve-year-old Zachariah "ZJ" Johnson Jr.'s pro-football player father has always been hailed as an American hero and a loving husband and father. Slowly, though, he begins to become forgetful and even shout "at people when/ you were never the kind of guy/ to yell before." Starting in 1999, ZJ leads readers on a journey through memories of a time before his father's persistent headaches kept him from playing football, when he still loved music and wrote songs with ZJ, and into the "ever after," when he sometimes forgets even ZJ's name. Eloquent prose poetry creates a moving narrative that reveals the grief of a child trying to understand why his father has changed and why nothing can be done. An ardent account of the multitudes of losses experienced by those who suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its effects on their families, ZJ's doleful tale unveils the intense nostalgia and hope one can feel despite realizing that sometimes what is lost can never be regained. Ages 10–up.

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    Penguin Young Readers Group
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