73 pages 2 hours read

Jacqueline Woodson

Before the Ever After

Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

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Important Quotes

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“And all these years later, just like that day, I know

he’s not my hero,

he’s my dad, which means

he’s my every single thing.” 

(Part 1, Page 4)

From the beginning of the novel, ZJ rejects the outside world’s notion that his father is a hero, some larger-than-life figure. In “Everybody’s Looking for a Hero,” he recalls a time when a reporter asked him if his dad was his biggest hero. Even at a young age, his answer was “No, […] My dad’s just my dad” (3) Now that ZJ is older, his answer has more nuance; he adds the importance of all of the roles his father plays in his life. 

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When you love a thing, little man, my dad said, 

you gotta love it with everything you got. 

Till you can’t even tell where that thing you love begins

and where you end.” 

(Part 1, Page 13)

Zachariah Sr. often talks to ZJ about how much he loved football. He encourages ZJ’s love for music throughout the novel. ZJ brings up this lecture from his father later in the book. In “You Love a Thing?,” he introduces his friends by telling readers what they are passionate about. Later, he’ll recall his father’s words in another context, underscoring the importance of passion and following dreams as a part of the character and plot development in this story.

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“It feels right

and clear 

and always.” 

(Part 1, Page 15)

This final stanza in “Who We Are and What We Love” describes how ZJ feels about his friendships with Darry, Daniel, and Ollie. At the same time, this stanza represents ZJ’s mindset before his father’s illness.