Published by Penguin on 2020-09
Genres: MG Realistic Fiction
Format: ARC eBook
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Jacqueline Woodson’s 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?
I have to be upfront and say I’m pretty biased towards author Jacqueline Woodson. I’ve loved everything written by her so I knew going into this story that it would be another wonderfully written & enjoyable story . My expectations weren’t wrong.
In Before the Ever After readers are brought into the world of ZJ and the conversation around injuries in football. Media has definitely talked about the dangers of playing football and for a little while there was a lot of talk around the scientific studies surrounding concussions in football players. Will Smith even played in a movie about the topic: Concussion. But Woodson takes us beyond the conversations and immerses us into the intimate realities of CTE. She shows us how families deal with the ramifications of CTE in an up-close & personal way through the eyes of ZJ, the son of a former professional football star.
This story has it’s sad moments, but I wouldn’t call it a sad story. It’s more of a resilience story — about ZJ adjusting to the new reality of his father’s injury and the impact it has had not only on himself, but his family, friends and community. I really loved how Woodson portrays ZJ and how she chose to showcase this topic through his eyes. The character development is spot-on just like the storyline itself. I really felt like I got to know ZJ and feel what he was feeling through Woodson’s words.
The story is written in verse which I really like, but I know some people struggle with. I don’t think this particular story would be hard to read via this format. I found it easy to digest. Overall, it’s a pretty fast read since it’s a shorter story. However, the length definitely doesn’t take away from the impact of the story or emotions being shown. It leaves you thinking, feeling and questioning. It definitely leaves its mark.
In the end, I couldn’t recommend this story enough. From the characters, to the writing, to the conversation being had through the storyline, Before the Ever After drew me in and left me with all the feels. It captured my attention and took me on a much needed journey into ZJ’s perspective and family. This is definitely a must-read for anyone looking for a great character driven story, but also for sports fans. It’s a story about resilience, heart, & the strength of family & true friendships. It’s a story you should pick up if you can!