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 14 September 2020 BEFORE THE EVER AFTER by Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020, 176p., ISBN: 978-0-399-54543-6


Imagine that one day you walk into the kitchen and your father doesn’t recognize you.


“The NFL’s top health and safety officer acknowledged Monday there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the first time a senior league official has conceded football’s connection to the devastating brain disease.”

-- Steve Fainaru, ESPN 3/14/16


“We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us”

-- Paul McCartney (1993)


Before the Ever After


Before the ever after, there was Daddy driving

to Village Ice Cream

on a Saturday night in July before preseason training.


Before the ever after, there was Mom in the back seat

letting me ride up front, me and Daddy

having Man Time together

waving to everyone

who pointed at our car and said That’s him!


Before the ever after, the way people said

That’s him! sounded like a cheer.


Before the ever after, the people pointing

were always smiling.


Before the ever after, Daddy’s hands didn’t always tremble

and his voice didn’t shake

and his head didn’t hurt all the time.


Before the ever after, there were picnics

on Sunday afternoons in Central Park

driving through the tunnel to get to the city

me and Daddy making up songs.


Before the ever after, there were sandwiches

on the grass near Strawberry Fields

chicken salad and barbecue beef

and ham with apples and Brie

there were dark chocolates with almonds and

milk chocolates with coconut

and fruit and us just laughing and laughing.


Before the ever after, there was the three of us

and we lived happily

before the ever after.” 


BEFORE THE EVER AFTER is a powerful story that’s personal to me, thanks to my own experience with a concussion. 


I was sitting in my Toyota pickup, idling at the rear of a traffic jam on 101 when a kid racing up the fast lane didn’t notice the stopped traffic ahead until too late. I never saw it coming. He hit me hard enough to roll my pickup. I regained consciousness hanging in midair by the seat belt, blood streaming from my forehead down onto the passenger window. 


One concussion was one too many for me. It took months before I felt that the ship was righting itself. The concussion has significantly affected my short-term memory. 


I can only imagine what it’s like for athletes suffering repeated brain traumas. How much money and fame is it worth to not recognize your loved ones, to have your life cut short by CTE?


Twelve-year-old ZJ (Zachariah Johnson Jr.) has a great dad, who has been a Super Bowl-winning tight end in the NFL. But the repeated brain trauma injuries ZJ’s dad has suffered are now taking their toll, hampering his ability to play, and diminishing his abilities as a star father. 


ZJ, who narrates this verse novel, is a down-to-earth kid. He has a circle of guy friends and an affinity for music and songwriting. But he and his mother find themselves at their wits end when their typically good-natured father and husband begins suffering headaches, mood swings, shaking, and memory loss. First ZJ’s dad loses his career. Then the doctors tell him he is no longer fit to drive a car. His outbursts at home cause reluctance among ZJ’s friends to come over. His episodes repeatedly lead to police cars at the house. 


If you’ve read about CTE, you already understand that it doesn’t just go away. 


“I watch him from the kitchen window, see him

lift his hands high into the air

as though he’s reaching up for a ball,

snatch them back down again.

Again and again, Reach. Snatch. Reach. Snatch.


Beside me, Ollie watches too while his mama and mine whisper

in the living room. I hear the word doctors.

I hear the words don’t know.


Jacqueline Woodson has crafted a shelf full of award-winning books. This stunning tale about an athlete who’s been stripped of his powers and is losing touch with his loving tween son is among the best of them.


Someday, scientists will learn enough about brain injuries that they’ll be able to do something more for those suffering multiple concussions. In the meantime, I sure am glad that my grandkids show no interest in playing football.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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