Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson – Book Review

Title: Before the Ever After

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: September 1, 2020

RATING: 5 Stars

ZJ’s father, a professional football player, is loved by all – fans, friends, and especially his family. Although Zachariah “44” Johnson is a menace on the field, he is anything but off of it. He is loving, caring, considerate, attentive, and honorable. As the football season drags on, ZJ’s father finds himself off the field more and more, suffering from seemingly inexplicable headaches and other worrisome symptoms. When ZJ’s father is sidelined for good, the family’s struggle to cope with the devastating effects of Zachariah’s chronic brain trauma just begins.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Before the Ever After is a superb, moving piece of literature. Told in verse, Woodson’s stunning story will deeply move readers of any age. It is, quite simply, outstanding. Woodson’s writing style is at once lyrical and stark as it intimately portrays a family coping with a new, grim reality. Through the challenges that arise from the physical and mental suffering of ZJ’s father’s and ZJ’s grief over an abrupt end to a beloved way of life, readers are forced to confront tough questions about sport, the love of the game, and the responsibility of an individual and organization for the health and wellbeing of its players. There are no easy answers, especially when one starts to consider how society values those that give their mind, body, and soul to sports for the entertainment and enjoyment of others.

Before the Ever After is a must-read. Its execution is exquisite. Its depth bottomless. Its importance paramount. ZJ’s and his family’s story will resonate with lovers of the game of football, watchers of the game, and haters of the game. It is accessible to everyone for reasons far beyond sport. A teacher only needs to decide how deeply they want their students to explore the challenging themes and topics Before the Ever After cultivates.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, for an eARC of this book!

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of sports and CTE.
  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books about sports.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • CTE
  • Professional Sports
  • Sports

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Before the Ever After. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Rebound by Kwame Alexander (Character Connections, Themes, Novel Structure, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Pop by Gordon Korman (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)


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