Summary: Before the Ever After
Before the Ever After is Woodson’s latest Coretta Scott King award winner — and a well-deserved win too. ZJ’s dad is a popular pro American footballer. He has a awesome crew of male friends who feel like family. Life seems pretty good until his dad comes home early from a game with an awful headache.
The headache is joined by disturbing symptoms like forgetfulness, aggression, spacing out, and general confusion. The book is set in 1999-2000 when there was just a growing awareness of CTE. ZJ’s mom is worried because she knows a few other football friends of his dad who have had the same symptoms. As ZJ tries to get through each day, not knowing whether it’ll be a good day for his dad or a bad one, he finds comfort in family, comfort, and community.
The writing in this book is just lovely — but, of course, it’s Jacqueline Woodson. I loved reading from ZJ’s perspective and the way his love and adoration for his father comes through just warms your heart and breaks it at the same time. ZJ also deals with people’s responses to his dad’s behavior. People who once admired and praised him now seem to have forgotten his existence because he’s no longer the football superstar.
This book is realistic and shows that every day is different for people with CTE. ZJ’s grief comes through and readers will feel it too as Woodson alternates between showing us his relationship with his dad before his symptoms and the situation in real time. I really loved that CJ had a strong group of male friends who supported him in their own way. He finds comfort in playing music as well. His mother also receives much-needed support which I also found comforting.
Finally, this book is SUPER SHORT at 176 pages, but packs such a punch! I highlighted so many sentences.
Overall: Before the Ever After
Before the Ever After is a brilliant, true-to-life portrayal of a child coping with his famous father’s deterioration due to CTE. The father-son relationship reminded me a bit of the one in Caroline Gertler’s Many Points of Me. This verse novel is perfect for fans of realistic, contemporary middle-grade fiction by Black authors. Lovers of books about sports, music, and father-son relationships will also enjoy it.
Buy This Book
Have you read this book or any others by Jacqueline Woodson? I’m hoping to read Harbor Me soon.