Before the Ever After

Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Sept. 2020. 176p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399545436.
Gr 4 Up–What happens after all your dreams come true? ZJ’s dad always wanted to be a football player. Through hard work, he achieved his goal and became an NFL player and hero to many. Unfortunately, his football fame came with a price. Now he experiences debilitating headaches, mood swings, and forgetfulness brought on by one too many concussions. ZJ remembers a time before his father changed; when his father would laugh, play with him and his friends, and support him with his music. That was the before—now he lives in the after. All ZJ has is memories of the incredible man his father was, and the fear of the unknown issue causing his father’s problems. Set in the early 2000s when concussion research on NFL players was at its inception, Woodson’s latest novel in verse conveys that not all success stories have a fairy-tale ending. Readers will feel an immediate connection to ZJ and his group of authentic, complex friends and family. The idea of showing the dark side of fame through the experiences of a young family member is a unique perspective that will resonate with readers of all ages. ZJ’s story will stay with the audience long after the last page is read.
VERDICT A first choice for all collections. A unique take on sports and fame told from an unexpected perspective, and another incredible read delivered by Woodson.

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