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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

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Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Released September 1)

Summary:  ZJ can remember “before the ever after” when his NFL star dad was a football star, and he and his parents lived a happy life in suburban Maplewood.  But his father has started having severe headaches, memory lapses, and irrational behavior that have put an end to his football career.  Doctors are baffled by his case, and by similar cases of some of his NFL teammates.  12-year-old ZJ finds support from his mom and three close friends, as he tries to enjoy his dad’s more lucid moments, and worries when things start to fall apart.  A crisis near the end of the story results in Dad being admitted to the hospital, with the hope that he’ll get the care he needs, but nothing guaranteed.  176 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This novel in verse by superstar Jacqueline Woodson will appeal to fans of Kwame Alexander and K. A. Holt.  Set in the early 2000’s when doctors were just beginning to understand the effects of multiple concussions for NFL players, there’s no happy ending, but ZJ’s voice hits just the right note between hope and despair.  An awards contender, for sure.

Cons:  It seemed surprising that none of the four 12-year-old boys in the story had any crushes or mention of romance.

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