GUEST WRITER TINA KELLY RECOMMENDS BEFORE THE EVER AFTER BY JACQUELINE WOODSON
Zachariah Junior, ZJ to his friends, is an 11-year-old boy who seems to have it all: three great friends, a superstar father football player who adores him, a doting and caring mom, and a passion for writing songs. Told in the voice of ZJ, the story is narrated between the past of remembering the glory days of his father’s famous football career: riding high on his shoulders, the loyal fans, the Super Bowl ring, and the many conversations they had over stats, to the present reality of watching his father suffer from the injuries he sustained during his football career. What remains constant is the love between ZJ and his superstar dad, Zachariah 44. Readers will enjoy the playful teasing, and back and forth conversations shared, along with the tight- knit father -and-son bond. ZJ is affectionally know to his dad as “little man.” This proves to be important throughout the story. ZJ knows his dad is having a good day when he calls him by this name. At times, his dad struggles to remember.
Each chapter is a memory, or a present-day reality, all lovingly told from ZJ’s perspective. Throughout the novel we are carried through good times of remembering the Before and there are too many great memories to count, to the Ever After, the hardship as ZJ and his mom worry about his father’s increasing headaches, memory loss and change in personality, all the while feeling very frustrated at the doctors’ inability to come up with a solution. All mother and son hope for is a diagnosis to explain why he is in so much pain. Any reader who has longed for the way something used to be, will feel ZJ’s sadness as he remembers and wishes for his old dad back. The love and loyalty of his three friends: Ollie, Darry, Daniel, help ZJ to navigate his emotions during this hard time and to be there for their friend.
Jacqueline Woodson’s historical novel, Before the Ever After, is perfectly suited for pre-teens and teens as there is much to gain from reading this novel in verse. She draws the reader in by the flow of her writing, each page a delight to read. Themes of family, friendship, dealing with adversity and staying positive when times are tough, will give each reader something to think about while reading.
For teachers, this novel is full of mentor -text opportunities and invitations to show students how to write well: figurative language, strong voice, and lessons on descriptive word choice are definite mini lessons in any ELA classroom. More importantly, read this book out loud- you will not be disappointed.
Tina Kelly teaches language arts at George Street Middle School. She has over 25 years of experience with middle schoolers and loves nothing more than recommending and sharing great literature. Inspired by Nancie Atwell, she believes in the philosophy of the Readers Workshop and the importance of giving students the choice to read what they want.