Before the ever after by Jacqueline Woodson


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What if you saw someone you love start to change? What if they started to forget things, or stopped acting like themselves? In the award winning verse novel, The Ever After, Zechariah, ZJ’s father and professional football player, begins to change. He has also happened to have a experienced a high number of concussions during his tenure as a running back. It begins slowly. In the first glimpse of the deterioration, ZJ’s dad repeats a joke over an over again, not remembering that he had said it before. Later, Zechariah yells at ZJ’s friends and him for being too loud. It is as if his father is behaving like a different person. Throughout this novel, beautifully written in verse, ZJ is not alone. He has his support system of three friends, making up the “Fantastic Four” and his mother and extended family. Music plays a role that is a way in which ZJ and his father connect. There is confusion and frustration at the doctors and their determine exactly what is wrong and how to help. And finally, there is this frightening disease that seems to affect athletes who participate in high contact sports.


Friendship is a vital part of ZJ’s life. His friends, a total crew of four are with him throughout his journey. They play football together, hang out at each other’s houses and walk home together. This showcases the vital importance of having a support system, especially as the family lives through the drastic changes in Zachariah. In the middle of the novel, they decide to throw Zachariah birthday party for his 35th birthday. It is obvious that things are different. People that used to be in their life have disappeared. In a particularly suspenseful scene, ZJ seeks outs his friends. As guests arrive, they do not show up. Then all of a sudden, they show up on their bikes and cars, “running toward the house yelling, “Let’s get this party started ya’ll” My smile is the whole moon, that bright, that big. (Woodson, 2020, 1:51). This highlights the importance of having friends that both understand you and support you.

This poignant and devastating book revolves around a disease that begins to completely change ZJ’s young father. At first there are little things that the family notices – Zachariah tells the same joke, but does not realize it, he suffers from incredibly painful headaches, he experiences mood swings and more. The book never names what is happening, but any reader who is aware of recent findings may know. ZJ’s dad is suffering from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which, even now, is not completely understood (“Chronic,” 2021). It was only until recently that doctor’s acknowledged a link between high contact sports, especially, like American football, with a high risk of concussions and this disease. In the authors note, Woodson states that “It wasn’t until 2002, that Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered that the same brain disease affecting boxers…was also harming football players…and in 2016, the link was finally acknowledged (2020, 2:13). Woodson tells his message and spreads awareness about this disease through a compelling medium- the human story. Young readers may not be drawn to a book about brain disease, but this is a story about a young black boy with a football player for a father. It is a story that young people can understand and learn from.

In Before the Ever After, music itself functions as a character and setting. Music is a way in which ZJ and his father connect. There are constant references to popular songs of multiple genres. In one scene Zachariah purchases a guitar for ZJ, even though he wanted drums. This guitar becomes a connection between them, even as the story enters the section entitled “Ever after” which is the second half. In his lowest state, ZJ brings his guitar to his father and plays and sings for him.

” This is what he has for me:

the smile that comes when I play, the one that’s really his

when he’s remembering again.” (Woodson, 2020, 2:11)

In reference to the above scene, there are studies that show music is, in fact, a medium that can reach people whose minds are deteriorating. In the article, “Music and Dementia: An Overview,” Devere states that in patients with dementia, “the response to music is preserved” (2017). This is of paramount importance to the connection between Zachariah and ZJ. Even as he sees his father, at times, staring outside a window, or hospitalized, music is a factor that binds them together.


Before the Ever After is a powerful, tragic, and poignant story about the dramatic deterioration in a young boy’s father, an all star football player. It exposes the reader to CTE, a disease that is caused by repeated head trauma, while remaining a poignant story of a boy and his father. ZJ loves his father and idolizes his, as do those around him. As Zachariah condition worsens, the reader sees how ZJ and his mother struggle. At the same time, there are continuous moments of light. ZJ’s crew, with him, made up of four boys, are there for him and help support him. Music, for ZJ and his father is a way of bonding, especially now that his health is in decline. This is a vital piece of literature for children and young adults and deserves a spot in any library that serves them.


Devere, R. (2017, June). Music and Dementia: An Overview. Practical Neurology. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Retrieved from

Woodson, J. (2020). Before the ever after. Penguin Random House, LLC.

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