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OPINION | READ TO ME: 'Before the Ever After'

by Celia Storey | February 8, 2021 at 1:54 a.m.
"Before the Ever After" by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020) (Penguin Random House)

'Before the Ever After'

BY: Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020), ages 10 and older, 176 pages, $17.99 hardcover; paperback, audiobook and eBook available.

STORY: What if your charming, loving father was everybody's football hero? What if you adored him; but you were beginning to feel overshadowed? Everywhere you went, it seemed, people only wanted to talk about "Zachariah 44" and his talent.

But what if Dad's glory days were suddenly done? What if who he was disintegrated? What if, one day, he couldn't remember your name?

This story is set a decade before the scandal over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the NFL. Today's fans know pro ball has a serious personal cost. That cost is made real in this emotionally engaging fiction.

Snapshots in time are conveyed by elegiac prose poems to unfold 12-year-old Zachariah Jr.'s memories of his father's transformation. But this heartbreaking story is packed with love. As the father becomes progressively mentally ill and the mother struggles to help him and cope with their losses, the son finds an identity as a musician. Music becomes a bridge to his dad.

A family with good reason to despair instead finds new ways to bond.

Despite its innovative narrative approach, the story is never confusing. But a lot goes on that isn't explicitly labeled, so definitely "Before the Ever After" would be a good book to read together and talk over. Preteens can think about loss of dreams, the role of the sports hero in society, loss of innocence, race relations. And they'll want to understand what ZJ observes among his friends, some of whom are gifted athletes and some of whom are fans and still naive.

Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.

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