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Before the Ever After: A Librarian’s Perspective

I so enjoyed this book! A great story with a sympathetic protagonist. It has SIX (well-deserved) starred reviews, and it won the 2021 Coretta Scott King Award for Author.

AUTHOR: Jacqueline Woodson
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Nancy Paulsen Books
PUBLICATION DATE: September 1, 2020
PAGES: 176
GENRE: realistic fiction, free verse
SETTING: 1999-2000, USA
GIVE IT TO: upper-elementary; MS


For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero. A pro-football player with a long and successful career, ZJ’s dad, called Zacariah-44, is well-known figure in their area. But lately, ZJ’s dad is forgetting things. He’s behaving erratically, forgetting things, and sometimes shouting. He has debilitating headaches for days at a time. It’s 1999, and doctors are only just beginning to understand CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Could his dad’s issues have been caused by years of concussions? Will ZJ’s dad ever get better?


I loved this and have no complaints about any of it! It’s well-written with a sympathetic protagonist and addresses an important problem that doesn’t get enough attention.


I loved pretty much everything about this book! It’s a quick read that would be great for reluctant readers, particularly those who love football. Since ZJ’s dad has already stopped playing football at the beginning of the book, descriptions of football playing are slim. But CTE is an important and serious issue for our young people to be aware of, especially if they play football.

If I were teaching this book, I would have students look closely at a particular scene in the middle of the story. ZJ decides to walk off the football field after he gets a relatively minor lip injury. He vows not to play any more football, and he sticks with that for the remainder of the book. ZJ has never been hugely into football for himself, but he does enjoy playing with his dad and his friends. This moment shows that ZJ understands that his dad’s brain injury could be the result of his years as a football player. ZJ chooses himself and his health over football. For ZJ, it’s just not worth it.

Contrast ZJ’s decision not to play football with another friend’s desire to play pro-football. The older boy who tackled ZJ and caused the lip injury wants to play pro ball. He does apologize to ZJ for the incident and clearly feels remorseful about it. It was an accident.

But that accident is so important here. None of the contact sports players suffering CTE intended to get hurt. No one hurt them on purpose–it was just a game, and accidents happen.

Unlike ZJ, the other boy doesn’t understand the potential for serious injury here. It probably wouldn’t stop him from trying to go pro anyway. Football players in the USA are worshipped like gods (as we see with ZJ’s dad). Even with all we now know about CTE, there is still controversy about whether it is caused by head injuries in contact sports–American football in particular–and not something else (steroids, intense workouts, blah blah blah). There are multiple news reports that accuse the NFL of covering up the injuries or minimizing their severity. Even with all we know, we will still have young people who love football and don’t believe this could ever happen to them.

If I were still teaching seventh grade English, this book would absolutely be in my classroom library. I would booktalk it and encourage it as a choice for reading groups. It’s an easy, quick read that can promote so much discussion among students.


Literally nothing. I am really trying to think of something I didn’t like, and I am coming up blank.


ZJ and his family are African American, as are several family friends.


Themes: football, brain injuries, celebrities, heroes, friendship, overcoming adversity, friends helping friends through tough times, family, African Americans, fathers and sons

Would adults like this book? YES

Would I buy this for my high school library? I probably would, but I am concerned that the protagonist is only 12 years old. I do think this is great for reluctant readers looking for something easy and interesting. It would depend on whether I thought my HS students would be interested in a story told by a 12-year old. Many won’t be, but the football and CTE themes might overcome that for some readers.

Would I buy this for my middle school library? 1000% YES–This is a MUST for all middle school libraries.

Would I buy this for my elementary school library? YES–It’s great for Grades 4-5.


Language: none

Sexuality: none; romance is not present at all

Violence: mild; ZJ gets tackled and injured, but it’s an accident and the other boy apologizes; ZJ’s dad shouts without provocation (a result of his brain injuries)

Drugs/Alcohol: mild; medicinal drugs prescribed by a doctor and used properly to treat headaches

Other: none





Have you read Before the Ever After? Would you add it to your library?


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