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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A Support Network’s Role in Coping with Difficulties

In “Real Fiction,” Woodson raises the question of how people deal with setbacks and scary life changes. She shows ZJ reading books that give him hope things will “be kinda okay in the end” (27). Using character development, she shows readers that family and friends are how people get through tough times and get to okay, just as family and friends make up the sweetest memories of the times before tragedy strikes. 

ZJ’s closeness with his friends buoys him during the tough times with his father. Woodson shows the relationships’ importance by establishing their connection in the opening scenes. ZJ’s friends are there when his father is sent home from a game for the first time in “Memory Like a Movie.” In the novel’s exposition, Woodson shows that the boy’s relationships are authentic. In the poem “ZJ,” ZJ separates the outside world, where people only see him as his father’s son, from his inner circle where “[his] boys / who see [him] walking into the classroom and say / What’s up ZJ?” (10-11). 

The boys emotionally and, sometimes physically, form a protective barrier around each other. The day after Darry’s parents announce their separation, he passes a note that says, “I need the trail,” which to ZJ means “I need my boys, means something / is happening, / means come be around me” (114).