Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)

long wayAn unforgettable novel in verse about one boy’s role in a cycle of violence.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9781481438254)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, verse, diverse, own voices, African-American, reluctant readers, award winners

Tone/Style: spare, hard-hitting

Pace: fast

Topics: inner city life, gangs, ghosts

Themes: revenge, grief, cycle of violence, decisions, family

Summary: An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and 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.
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.

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. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Readers looking for tension, mystery, heartbreak, social issues, and gorgeous verse. It may particularly speak to some inner city readers. Those who want a book that hits you hard and sticks with you will find this a deeply satisfying read. It’s also great for those lookin for a quick read.

Who won’t like this book?: It will be too intense for some readers. Some may have a hard time with its unusual structure: it takes place over the course of a few minutes and all on one elevator ride.

Other comments: I tend to only recommend this to 8th grade and up, though, because of language and intense situations. Which makes me very sad, because I am lowkey obsessed. Make sure you find a friend who has read this, because you will need to discuss it after!

Sequel(s): None

Readalikes: For grades 8 and up, Yummy: The Last Days of  a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser, and Monster by Walter Dean Myers. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon and I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina are specifically about police brutality (which is not part of Long Way Down) but have similarities in their settings and narratives. For the younger crowd, The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore is an excellent choice.

-Kylie Peters

Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22552026-long-way-down

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