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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Character Analysis

Zachariah “ZJ” Johnson, Jr.

ZJ is a young African American boy, the son of Zachariah “44” Johnson, Sr. a professional football player in the NFL. He is the speaker in all of the poems and serves as the main character in Before the Ever After. Right away, ZJ represents a divergence, or separation, from who society expects him to be as the son of an African American football player. Instead, the novel centers on ZJ’s internal world and ZJ’s relationships with family and friends. In the poem “ZJ,” he introduces himself by first saying he knows people see, “the one / whose daddy plays pro ball” (10). Instead of being who they expect him to be, ZJ is his own person; “[He is] the one who doesn’t dream of going pro. // Music maybe. / But not football” (10). Instead of being a boy who feels burdened by his father’s legacy, ZJ plays guitar, sharing a passion for music and songwriting with his father. Through his dismissal of societal expectations, ZJ reveals his independent and free-thinking personality. We see this side of him again when ZJ leaves the field rather than playing tackle football with Everett: Despite peer pressure to be “tough,” ZJ recognizes that actions have consequences and leaves a potentially dangerous situation.