Before the Ever After explores the life of a family after the star football player father begins to suffer from CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the neurogenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It takes us to the place where a family that has known the glow of a father who has been a hero to many, the joy of family traditions and now finds itself searching for its new identity and its new realization of where their love and excellence truly reside.
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
To read more about Before The Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/83328-cover-reveal-before-the-ever-after-by-jacqueline-woodson.html
How cool would it be to have a father who was a famous football player? How cool would it be to ride around on his shoulders while the excited fans pushed in toward him for autographs and photos?
That’s the life ZJ - little man- Zachariah Johnson Junior - has lived with his dad, a pro tight end player who has won a Super Bowl ring and who knows what it’s like to get his 223 pounds of painful body out of bed the morning after the big game.
When the reporters stick their cameras and microphones into ZJ Jr.s face, they ask him, “Is your father your hero?” ZJs answer is he’s my dad…He’s my Everything.
ZJ loves to create songs with his father. The look on his father’s face when he hears what ZJ can do with words is a look any son would cherish forever. It feels good when your own dad thinks you’re really special.
ZJ’s friends are pretty special too. Ollie practically lives at ZJs house. He brings his amazing ability with math - he can divide fractions in his head before the other kids have jotted down the math problem. Darry has dance moves and Daniel can work magic on any kind of bicycle.
These four guys have each other’s backs no matter what.
But one day things in ZJs life start to change. His Dad looks at the four boys and doesn’t know who they are. He loses his temper and his hands start to shake. He can’t play football and the doctors are trying to figure out what is wrong.
How cool is it to have a father who was a famous football player who might not know your name? How cool is it when the people who used to fill your house and eat your food and be your friend stop coming around? How cool is it when the doctors don’t have the answer to the most important question in your life? When will my dad be my dad again?
Of course, Jacqueline Woodson brings her big heart, her deep soul and her keen intellect to the world of a young man who is facing some hard times. When she does that, you walk in his shoes and you start feeling like the story might have something to do with your own life even if your dad isn’t a football player.
So, ZJ Jr. said his father was everything. Maybe that’s not quite right. ZJ Jr. has some “everything” in his own right. ZJ Jr. can create songs; he can make music. He has an entire self all his own. He has friends. He has real friends.
This story asks some important questions. What defines us? What really matters in our lives? It’s easy to get caught up in celebrity and a big house and having a father who is a hero to thousands of strangers. But when the chips are down, the things that give a little less meaning to your days start to fall away and that leaves the people and the things that really do matter.
Your friends who have your back and like you for who you are - those are the friends you want forever. The special gift that sets you apart and the gifts of your friends that set them apart - those are the qualities that last and mean something….more than an autographed football.
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
Imagine that one day you walk into the kitchen and your father doesn’t recognize you.
“The NFL’s top health and safety officer acknowledged Monday there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the first time a senior league official has conceded football’s connection to the devastating brain disease.”
-- Steve Fainaru, ESPN 3/14/16
“We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us”
-- Paul McCartney (1993)
“Before the Ever After
Before the ever after, there was Daddy driving
to Village Ice Cream
on a Saturday night in July before preseason training.
Before the ever after, there was Mom in the back seat
letting me ride up front, me and Daddy
having Man Time together
waving to everyone
who pointed at our car and said That’s him!
Before the ever after, the way people said
That’s him! sounded like a cheer.
Before the ever after, the people pointing
were always smiling.
Before the ever after, Daddy’s hands didn’t always tremble
and his voice didn’t shake
and his head didn’t hurt all the time.
Before the ever after, there were picnics
on Sunday afternoons in Central Park
driving through the tunnel to get to the city
me and Daddy making up songs.
Before the ever after, there were sandwiches
on the grass near Strawberry Fields
chicken salad and barbecue beef
and ham with apples and Brie
there were dark chocolates with almonds and
milk chocolates with coconut
and fruit and us just laughing and laughing.
Before the ever after, there was the three of us
and we lived happily
before the ever after.”
BEFORE THE EVER AFTER is a powerful story that’s personal to me, thanks to my own experience with a concussion.
I was sitting in my Toyota pickup, idling at the rear of a traffic jam on 101 when a kid racing up the fast lane didn’t notice the stopped traffic ahead until too late. I never saw it coming. He hit me hard enough to roll my pickup. I regained consciousness hanging in midair by the seat belt, blood streaming from my forehead down onto the passenger window.
One concussion was one too many for me. It took months before I felt that the ship was righting itself. The concussion has significantly affected my short-term memory.
I can only imagine what it’s like for athletes suffering repeated brain traumas. How much money and fame is it worth to not recognize your loved ones, to have your life cut short by CTE?
Twelve-year-old ZJ (Zachariah Johnson Jr.) has a great dad, who has been a Super Bowl-winning tight end in the NFL. But the repeated brain trauma injuries ZJ’s dad has suffered are now taking their toll, hampering his ability to play, and diminishing his abilities as a star father.
ZJ, who narrates this verse novel, is a down-to-earth kid. He has a circle of guy friends and an affinity for music and songwriting. But he and his mother find themselves at their wits end when their typically good-natured father and husband begins suffering headaches, mood swings, shaking, and memory loss. First ZJ’s dad loses his career. Then the doctors tell him he is no longer fit to drive a car. His outbursts at home cause reluctance among ZJ’s friends to come over. His episodes repeatedly lead to police cars at the house.
If you’ve read about CTE, you already understand that it doesn’t just go away.
“I watch him from the kitchen window, see him
lift his hands high into the air
as though he’s reaching up for a ball,
snatch them back down again.
Again and again, Reach. Snatch. Reach. Snatch.
Beside me, Ollie watches too while his mama and mine whisper
in the living room. I hear the word doctors.
I hear the words don’t know.”
Jacqueline Woodson has crafted a shelf full of award-winning books. This stunning tale about an athlete who’s been stripped of his powers and is losing touch with his loving tween son is among the best of them.
Someday, scientists will learn enough about brain injuries that they’ll be able to do something more for those suffering multiple concussions. In the meantime, I sure am glad that my grandkids show no interest in playing football.
Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA