Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds


5 starGenre: Young Adult, Poetry, Contemporary
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

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.

Jason Reynolds has written quite a bit, but I’ve never heard of him before Long Way Down. I will definitely be seeking out some of his other work in the future.

I love reading novels written in verse. I don’t think every novel should be written in verse, but most that are feature a specific topic. Long Way Down is no exception. Reynolds’ paints beautifully visceral images with his verse that highlights the themes of the novel.

“Shawn was zipped into a bag
and rolled away, his blood added
to the pavement galaxy of

bubblegum stars. The tape
framed it like it was art. And the next
day, kids would play mummy with it.”

The idea that drives this novel is what makes it so impactful. Will’s older brother is shot and killed. Will doesn’t know how to deal with the grief, so he follows the rules his brother taught him and was taught by other men before them. Namely, the rule of revenge. As will is descending in the elevator, it stops at each floor and a person enters. Each of these people make Will question his motives and potential actions. Will is a whirlwind of thoughts, feelings, and what ifs as he considers all that’s being presented to him.

Gun violence it at the forefront of politics because of what the Black Lives Matter movement has been able to accomplish in terms of bringing awareness to gun violence, police brutality, etc. and the horrific mass shootings. However, gun violence has always been part of society and young teens have been dealing with it for some time now. Reynolds’ packages a message about this violence in accessible terms while hitting the emotional beats of the story.

This is beautifully crafted novel that reads quickly, yet packs a punch like no other. If you’ve read and enjoyed The Hate U Give and Dear Martin, Long Way Down is another addition to this growing Young Adult subgenre.

Great news! Long Way Down has been optioned by Universal for a movie!


Speculation about the end, spoilers (highlight to view!)
When Shawn finally steps on the elevator it was like I let out a breath. At a certain point you realize that Shawn will be making an appearance. Will’s interaction with Shawn isn’t as long as I would have wanted, but I think that’s the purpose. The last line of the novel can be interpreted many ways. I interpreted it as Will being asked if he’s going to join Shawn and the rest as ghosts. Will he or won’t he perpetuate the circle of violence by killing Riggs, who may or may not be the killer. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I’m choosing to believe that Will stays on the elevator.

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