Before the Ever After

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Before the Ever After Book Poster Image
Tween copes with father's illness in touching verse novel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story is about the effects on a family when the father, a football player, develops chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that can result from repeated blows to the head. The book touches on the history of activism and self-advocacy by families seeking answers about football players' frightening, debilitating symptoms. There is also mention of a person losing a leg to diabetes.

Positive Messages

Even when things are not going to be OK, love wins.

Positive Role Models

Father and son have a tight relationship with love at its heart, despite the father's rapidly losing first his job, then his mental and physical health, and eventually even his memory. The web of material support between close friends provides a model for relationships that go beyond bonds of mutual affection to practical aid.


As the father's illness progresses, his moods swing, and he shows some scary behaviors, including shouting and punching objects in the home.


There are very brief romantic scenes of the parents' showing affection, such as dancing to their favorite music.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's a mention of the father being put on "experimental drugs" and discussion of the side effects of pills he has to take.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), won the 2021 Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award. It's a novel in verse narrated by a 12-year-old boy who witnesses his professional football player father's physical and mental decline from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative condition that can result from repeated blows to the head. The book explores the boy's feelings of confusion and worry and could be helpful for any kid going through a family health crisis.

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What's the story?

When BEFORE THE EVER AFTER begins 12-year-old Zachariah, Jr. (Z.J.) enjoys the fruits of having a father who's a professional football player, and not just any player -- a star. But his father, Zachariah, Sr., begins having troubling symptoms, including severe headaches, mood swings, and shaking hands. While Z.J.'s mother takes her husband to doctors, looking for answers, Z.J. struggles to maintain a connection to Zachariah through the one thing his father still seems to enjoy: music. 

Is it any good?

This touching portrait of a family in crisis gives readers a model for fighting off despair. Author Jacqueline Woodson, whose Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the John Newbery Medal, and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature, makes smart use of poetry and the first-person perspective in Before the Ever After to immerse the reader in the intensity of the character's emotional experience. The story is easy to follow and never confusing, yet it delivers the feeling of being confused by unexpected and unexplained life events. This book could be helpful to readers dealing with physical or mental illness of any kind in the family.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Before the Ever After shows a loved one's serious illness that affects the whole family. Have anyone in your family gotten terribly sick? How did you handle it? 

  • The family in Before the Ever After bonds over music. What special thing do you share with your family members?

  • American football is a beloved sport, but there;s evidence that players can get seriously hurt. Would you be comfortable playing this game, in school or as a job?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports tales and stories of dads

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