Friday, September 24, 2021

Freeform Friday: Before the Ever After - Jacqueline Woodson

Summary: 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? (Summary and pic from

My Review: I’ve read quite a few books in verse these past few months, and I’d have to say that that is unique for me. I don’t usually love books in verse. However, these most recent books have been children’s books (YA and JFic), and I’ve found them to be surprisingly effective in bringing about their message and evoking the feeling of the book. Being written in verse certainly makes for a fast read, and I read this entire book within a few hours.

This book is sad. Tragic, really. Head injuries are difficult to read about, as the experiences are so life-changing for everyone around them. I thought this book did a really good job of touching on this difficult topic. I think so many times we take for granted the fact that children have to live through illnesses, accidents, and tragedies as well. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the adults having to experience these things (and of course the difficulty of this cannot be overstated), but children also have to experience the difficulties and the aftermath that comes. They have less control over the situation, less knowledge, and less ability to make choices in the matter. I thought that Woodson did a great job of displaying the fear and uncertainty that comes with children who have to live through such difficulties.

I appreciated this book addressing the toll that sports take on a human’s body. It is easy to forget what types of physical trauma can come from an elite athlete, because they seem so above and beyond the normal physical bounds that the rest of us face. I also appreciated this book addressing the toll a physical injury can take on mental health, as so much of our identity is tied to our physical abilities, and this is possibly even more true for professional athletes who also base their livelihoods on their physical abilities.

I am not really a sports person. I don’t watch follow professional football or look forward to sports seasons or what have you. However, I enjoyed this book and felt like it was an effective way to discuss topics that are important and timely. As mentioned above, it was a quick read, and I felt like the characters were relatable and the writing accessible.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean but does have some frank discussions of physical and mental trauma.

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