Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Before the Ever After

Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After
September 1st 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zachariah Johnson, Jr. has always been proud of his pro football playing father, even though he is more interested in music and poetry. He loves the adulation his father gets from their town and his friends Daniel, Darry, and Oliver, and just has a great time hanging out with his caring and supportive family. However, right around the turn of the last century, ZJ's father starts to have a lot of health concerns. He has horrific headaches that cause him to moan and lash out, and he sometimes forgets things he should definitely know. ZJ's mother knows that something serious is wrong, and takes him to doctors, especially since other men who played football with him are suffering from similar problems. It soon is discovered that ZJ's beloved father has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and won't be getting better. He has to mourn his father while he is still right there, and he and his mother have to find a way forward.
Strengths: Woodson's writing is always lyrical and atmospheric, and this novel in verse is no different. ZJ clearly loves his father and is proud of his football skills, so is devastated when he sees his father going downhill. Losing a parent as a child is the most devastating loss there is, and ZJ's struggles with this, set against his regular life of having to go to school, hang out with his friends, and be approached to play tackle football games, is well done. The cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: I wish this were set in current times and included more information about CTE, much like Korman's Pop.
What I really think: There is very little football involved in the story, but will be a great choice for teachers and librarians who want to read something that touches on sports, and also for readers who enjoyed the novels in verse by Kwame Alexander, including Rebound, which also deals with grief.

I will take any chance I can get to plug Steve Almond's fantastic Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto (2014). It is a perfect accompaniment to this book and discusses how serious the problem with CTE in football players is.
Ms. Yingling

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