The son of an idolized pro-football star begins noticing the contrast between his father’s angry, forgetful behavior and his superhero reputation before adjusting to a new reality involving difficult symptoms stemming from his father’s numerous head injuries. By the National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming. Simultaneous. - (Baker & Taylor)
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? - (Random House, Inc.)
*Starred Review* Guy Lockhard poignantly connects listeners to 12-year-old Zachariah ZJ Johnson and his friends and family, most notably his pro-football player father. Set in the early 2000s, when concussion research on NFL players was just beginning to uncover the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the story takes listeners back in time with ZJ to "before, when his dad was a loving father and football star. In Lockhard's voice, we hear the youthful optimism and admiration for ZJ's dad, who is not his hero but his "ev-er-y single thing." But soon his dad's headaches, memory lapses, and unpredictable anger grow increasingly frequent and scary for ZJ. Lockhard's voice reflects ZJ's confusion and disappointment as his dad starts to change. Before the headaches, Zachariah Sr.'s voice is full of life and masculine energy, but as his condition gets worse, listeners hear his anguish and debilitating pain. Lockhard skillfully portrays ZJ's wistfulness for the time before his father's illness, his gratitude for the support of his friends, and his heart-wrenching sadness as his dad slips further away. With relatable authenticity, Lockhard amplifies the emotion and sensory experience of Woodson's spare and lyrical verse, helping listeners to feel the confusion, fear, and sadness of a family suffering together from the effects of brain injury and the personality changes it brings. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.
School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 5–8—The "Before" was when ZJ's football-playing father was "everybody's… next great hero," but to ZJ, world-famous "Zachariah 44!" was "just my dad… which means / he's my every single thing." For most of 12-year-old ZJ's life, Daddy was the very best parent, playmate, music-maker, nurturer, supporter, and more. But years of injuries on the field have been causing memory loss, sudden disconnects, and inexplicable anger. In the early 2000s, little was known about the debilitating consequences of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a direct result of repeated concussions. For ZJ and his family and friends, "the Ever After" offers no cure. Guy Lockard's versatility elevates Woodson's already stupendous novel in verse, showcasing his emotional agility from the exuberance of "Before" to the roller-coaster uncertainty of during, all the way to the heartbreaking sadness and determined acceptance of "the Ever After." Nuanced, intimate, and empathic, Lockard again proves to be a gifted narrator. VERDICT Pair with Gordon Korman's Pop (expertly voiced by Nick Podehl) for additional literary illumination.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Copyright 2021 School Library Journal.