Title: Long Way Down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Audience: Young Adult
Length: 306 pages
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: The Hate U Give, Dear Martin
Content Warnings: gun violence, death, gangs, drugs
An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
This is an incredibly powerful novel in verse about the systems that perpetuate a cycle of violence in black communities. The story is told through a series of short, time-stamped poems as Will rides down an elevator on his way to kill his brother’s killer.
During this short elevator rides, Will encounters the ghosts of people in his life who were victims of violence. They illustrate for him a larger picture as Will decides whether to follow through with his plan.
The writing was incredible. I love how Jason Reynolds makes poetry so gripping and accessible. This is also an incredibly important and emotional story for young adult readers. As a teacher, this is one of the top book recs I see every year for secondary students. I’m so glad I finally took the time to read this (which was not very much time at all) so I can add it and the graphic novel adaptation to my classroom library.