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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their glory days have passed and the cost of professional sports on Black bodies.

For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that - but it doesn't make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

©2020 Jacqueline Woodson (P)2020 Listening Library

Critic Reviews

“Woodson's text may be spare, but it has the emotional wallop of an offensive tackle.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review 

"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. 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.”—School Library Journal, starred review 

“Using spare and lyrical language for ZJ’s present-tense narration, which moves back and forth through time, Woodson skillfully portrays the confusion, fear, and sadness when a family member suffers from brain injury and the personality changes it brings. . . . The well-rounded secondary characters complete a mosaic of a loving African American family and their community of friends. . . . A poignant and achingly beautiful narrative shedding light on the price of a violent sport.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review 

What listeners say about Before the Ever After

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Just wow!

Woodson weaves a tale that draws you in with every small part of the story. The writing is superb, the performance by Lockard perfectly nuanced. Yes, it’s a YA book and I am a 76 year old lifelong football fan. I couldn’t get through it fast enough and I wanted to slow it down to last longer. This YA is for everyone ten and up. I want more Woodson!

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touching and timely

Great narration. Loved the story. Feeling the suffering while experiencing the joy through the eyes of a young boy

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  • 05-25-21

loving this children's book

this is a story that needs to be heard about the impact of football on athletes, from the child's perspective. i felt the joy and sadness of zj, and felt for him and others who are struggling through this. well read.

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Wow! So much for a child to experience.

Wow. This is a hard book, but also told at a level I believe the intended audience can understand. It was written while the understanding that contact sports can cause massive brain injuries that are irreversible was being discovered (or, really, acknowledged).

This young boy didn't understand what was happening to his dad. His dad was this famous football player who was loving and fun, but then he turned into an angry man with constant head pain. As a child, he just wanted his dad to be who he was. But that cannot be with this type of brain injury.

I love that she incorporated song writing and music in it. A terrible truth told beautifully.

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this was a great realistic fiction book

this book opened my mind to the fact that even famous people's family's have it hard! But it also reminded me that family will always be their, either in spirit, mind, or real life, just remember, you're never alone

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Pigskin

This was a beautiful story about a wonderful close knit family. The dad was a revered football player who, after many years of playing without a helmet suffered brain damage. His pain and confusion reminded me of dementia patients. Sic a sad ending.

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Sad but Beautiful

This is a beautifully sad book about the effects of CTE on an athlete and his family, specifically his young son. The story is told from son's point of view. Jacqueline Woodson's writing is spot on and you can feel both the love and the despair throughput the book. Guy Lockard did a great job narrating. I highly recommend you give it a listen.

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From a CTE and complex dementia specialist

Woodson beautifully and clearly illustrates the challenges, pain, and conflicts of cognitive impairments for families.