Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Number of pages: 306
Source: Warren Public Library
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.
I was fully blown away by this book. Before I get into the meat and potatoes of my review, a few things I want to address. First, don’t let the page count scare you. This is written in verse and there are not a ton of words per page (more on that later). Next, I waffled with my rating before finally settling on PG because I think all kids (and adults!) should read this story. But who is it appropriate for? Well, that right there is a question that I feel comes from privilege. And it’s just not my middle-class white privilege that can alter the rating, but also the maturity of the child. I would have let my older son read this story at pretty much any age, but not my younger son. They process things differently. Again, I had the privilege to not feel like my younger son had to read this story at a young age. If you’re contemplating giving this story to a child, my suggestion would be to read it first. You should read it regardless, it’s amazing and insightful.
This story was not on my radar until it was picked for my book club. While I like and read all genres, I tend to stick to my romance bubble 95% of the time. Luckily, we have a couple educators in our group who are always in the know about the great YA books out there. This was picked by our 4th grade teacher in the group. And let me tell you, I cannot wait to read the rest of this author’s work. I’m told they are not done as poetry, as this story is. But those that have read any of his other books say they are just as wonderful.
The way the author used the page is phenomenal. I’m not using that word lightly, either. Some pages would have two or three verses, others would have two words. When that was the case, those two words would pack such a punch it was unreal. I started noting all the wonderful passages and high impact parts of this story but had to stop…there were just too many. I wanted to immerse myself in the story, which was not hard to do at all.
There are moments in this story where Will says something like it’s an every day thing when it shouldn’t be an every day thing, especially for a kid. It’s humbling and chilling. I’m not blind and don’t attempt to be blind. I know what goes on in this country and to POC. In this story, I could hear Will’s voice and that brought reality into my brain instead of a few miles down the road viewed as a news bite or click bait. A lot about the last month or so has opened my eyes even wider than they were before. This book is one of those things.
My Book Club’s Take:
We did our book club meeting by Zoom again. We’re all still being very cautious, as it should be. Every single member of my book club loved this book. My mom purchased another of this author’s stories to read. While my mom likes to read, she is more of a sci-fi/fantasy reader and doesn’t always have a book with her like I do. In fact, she doesn’t read much beyond what our book club pick is because she tends to read on the slower side. So that’s saying a lot that she picked up another of his stories to read.
Speaking of my mom, she had a great thought. She said she would love to see a classroom of kids given this book to read and then told to write an essay to tell what they think happens next. The ending of this story can be interpreted so many different ways, which is another of the beauties of the author’s story-telling. We all had different ideas of what happens next with Will. Some were slight variations on the same idea, some went drastically in another direction. We’re not the type of book club to follow discussion questions, but some of the books had discussion questions included (mine didn’t). I would highly suggest you get that copy, or you can find some online resources. Especially if you read this as a book club pick or with kids.
My Aunt Lynne actually got the audio version. She said it was narrated by the author and was outstanding. In fact, all of us in book club said we will most likely try to listen to the book now after her rave reviews of how impactful it was to hear the author read his story. And she’s going to read the print version to see how the layout impacted the rest of us who read the print version. (Note: My mom read the ebook version and said it was also formatted as the hardcover was formatted.)
In case you can’t tell. This story is well worth the read and I cannot recommend it enough. For young and old and all the in between.
At this point, we aren’t quite sure when our next meeting will be or what the next book will be. Things are so crazy lately for us all, as I’m sure you understand. I’ll let you know when I know.