Review of Before the Ever After

Before the Ever After
by Jacqueline Woodson
Intermediate    Paulsen/Penguin    176 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-399-54543-6    $17.99

In her latest novel in verse, Woodson (Locomotion, rev. 3/03; Brown Girl Dreaming, rev. 9/14) explores the impact of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on football players and their families from the perspective of ZJ, son of tight end Zachariah “44” Johnson. The novel opens in 1999 and flashes forward in time to what ZJ calls the “ever after,” then fills in what happened in between. In life before the ever after, ZJ and his friends watched his daddy on TV on Sundays. He remembers listening to music and making up songs with his father. But then slowly things change. Daddy isn’t playing as much. His hands shake. His head hurts. He can’t remember things. On the eve of the new millennium, ZJ’s world changes completely when his dad yells at him and his friends, not remembering who they are. Then the headaches and forgetfulness become more frequent. Doctor visits and tests are a new way of life, with very few answers. In lyrical verse, Woodson conveys the confusion and loss that many families feel as they try to figure out what is wrong with their loved one. Each of the poems ably captures the voice of the story’s preteen boy protagonist; readers can feel the sense of love and loss that ZJ is experiencing as his dad slips away. Even though that loss is difficult, Woodson reminds readers that life’s challenges are more easily faced with the support of friends and family.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Nicholl Denice Montgomery

Nicholl Denice Montgomery is currently working on a PhD at Boston College in the curriculum and instruction department. Previously, she worked as an English teacher with Boston Public Schools.

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