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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Symbols & Motifs

Memories and Photographs

Before the Ever After’s structure is a collection of ZJ’s memories. Some of the back-to-back poems in the book are thematically linked, like memories in the human mind. When ZJ introduces his friends in “Who We Are and What We Love,” it follows a poem in which his father tells him that if a person loves a thing, they should do it with everything they’ve got. The back-to-back placement suggests that ZJ’s thinking about his father’s words prompted memories of what he and his friends love. Later, in the back-to-back poems “Rap Song” and “Unbelievable,” ZJ remembers how some of his musical firsts happened because of his father’s encouragement. Woodson’s use of this structure mimics human memory and helps readers get inside ZJ’s head, where he makes sense of the present and the future by reviewing the past with new insights.

Woodson clarifies this motif by using photographs in the back-to-back poems “Down the Hall from My Room” and “A Future With Me in It.” Both feature images of a room filled with photographs from the past. The photos help ZJ to understand that love, people, and relationships live on through memories.