#MMGM: Novels in Verse--Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson & Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes

These two beautiful novels-in-verse have a lot in common.  Both have black male protagonists who love music and play the guitar.  Both boys have fathers who have health problems.  Both books are written by BIPOC female authors who are known for their poetic abilities.  The books have their differences as well, Garvey faces isolation during the pandemic while ZJ has his family and his 'boys' to help and support him.


Jacqueline Woodson's 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?


ZJ adores his father, a professional football player.  When his father starts experiencing memory loss, aggressive tendencies, and confusion related to all the concussions he received playing football, ZJ struggles to adapt to the changes in his life.  He flashbacks to some of the wonderful memories of his father and wonders if that father is gone for good.  His 'boys', three best friends, stick by his side as he goes through the ups and downs of his father's condition. Jacqueline Woodson's beautiful poetry highlights the emotional turmoil that ZJ goes through as his family comes to terms with his father's condition.  Fun touches such as the tree names that ZJ and his father have for the trees around their house add to the sweetness of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful writing as well as the tenderness of the relationships between the characters.  ZJ and his friends antics and loyalty made me smile. And the thread of music that runs through the story binding together ZJ and his father makes the use of poetry just perfect.  A beautiful story, well-told, that highlights the power of family and friends, and the sense of loss when things change.


Capturing the shock and reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of Garvey, a beloved character, Nikki Grimes’s newest novel in verse shows readers how to find hope in difficult times.

Garvey’s finally happy—he’s feeling close to his father through their shared love of music, bullies are no longer tormenting him, and his best friends Manny and Joe are by his side. But when the schools, stores, and restaurants close because people are getting sick, Garvey’s improved life goes into lockdown as well. And when Garvey’s father gets sick, Garvey must find a way to use his newfound musical skills to bring hope to both his father and himself. Moving, powerful, and beautifully told, this remarkable novel shows readers how even small acts have large reverberations, how every person can make a difference in this world, and how—even in the most difficult times—there are ways to reach for hope and healing. 


As time has passed, stories about COVID are being written and published.  Garvey from Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes, returns in this story of the pandemic.  Garvey's relationship with his father has improved thanks to their love of music.  Garvey's life looks pretty good despite his difficulty getting along with his athletic sister.  He has his friends Joe, who he plays catch with, and Manny, who he enjoys music with, and school is okay.  But when 'the invisible beast' invades his life, everything changes.  He's stuck at home trying to make sense of remote learning.  He and his sister struggle with the bad news on the TV. And he worries about his father, who as an essential worker, has to go out and face the invisible beast on a daily basis.  When COVID finally does invade his home, Garvey wrestles with the possibility that his life will never be the same.  Grimes does a great job of presenting readers with a great character to root for along with a heart-touching story.  One of the things I love about novels-in-verse is the way it lets the reader into the heart and mind of the main character. And for me that makes the story all the more compelling, when you care about the character so much that you have to know what happens next.  The book is fairly short, as are most of the poems, making this a quick but impactful read.  Highly recommended.


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