Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles most Thursdays. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.
What’s the Big Deal?
As a winner of the 2018 John Newberry Medal and Edgar Award for Young Adult Literature, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds has been pushing attention to black lives and gun violence since its publication in 2017. The story is told in unique, poetic-but-factual prose—basically non-rhyming poetry—that’s easy and pleasing to digest. Reynolds, the author, is well known for writing honest accounts of black youth in his novels, thus enlightening readers and helping all of us to understand the world around us just that much more.
In fifteen-year-old Will’s neighborhood, there are rules:
No. 1: Crying. Don’t—no matter what.
No. 2: Snitching. Don’t—no matter what.
No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what.
The Rules are like a holy text where Will lives—and like they say, no matter what, they must be followed. So when Will’s brother, Shawn, is killed in the streets, Will doesn’t cry. He doesn’t snitch, although he knows who the killer is. What he does, instead, is uncover the gun hidden in a drawer of Shawn’s dresser, the one that sticks out like a crooked tooth, and sets off to get revenge.
Will leaves his home and walks until he finds himself in an elevator that should lead him to the murderer. But as it turns out, other things are lead to him instead—the ghosts of his family and his friends. All of them have been killed through street violence, and as they reminisce with Will in that elevator, many shamelessly smoking cigarettes and laughing, Will begins to wonder if the rules might just do more harm than good.
He doesn’t know for sure, but he does know that he’s got more people to meet—one of them being his father and one being Shawn himself. So as the elevator dips lower and Will meets a new person on each floor, he prepares himself for an experience unlike any he’s ever known. Eventually, he concludes he has time to decide what to do about his gun and the rules. After all, it’s a long way down.
- Author: Jason Reynolds
- Pages: 306
- Genre: Young adult fiction, verse novel
- Ratings: 4.3/5 Goodreads, 5/5 Common Sense Media
- Release date: October 24, 2017
- Publisher: Simon and Schuster
- “. . . this is a tour de force from a writer who continues to demonstrate his skill as an exceptionally perceptive chronicler of what it means to be a black teen in America.” —Publishers Weekly
- “Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending.” —Kirkus Reviews
People always love people more when they’re dead.
— Jason Reynolds, “Long Way Down”
To Read or Not to Read
I recommend this book if:
- You like stories told in prose the likes of Ellen Hopkins, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, or Billy Collins the poet
- You enjoy books that pack a punch but take only a few hours to read
- Books about gun violence or the implicit rules of lower-class neighborhoods might spark your interest
- You’re African-American or interested in the different ways that African-American kids might grow up
- You’ve ever had an experience with loss or grief pertaining to family members or close friends
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve disregarded many a school assignment because I was too wrapped up in this book. Like I do with any good novel, I’ve read it many times—but more so than usual, because it’s such a quick read (I usually knock it out in one sitting). In my opinion, Long Way Down is a startling, important novel that not only is written in an interesting way but also is written about an interesting topic.
I think schools would do well to recommend this book to kids because it easily opens up people’s eyes to the nightmare of street and gang violence that many are forced to live with every day. In a nutshell, Long Way Down really changed the way I looked at things—and that’s a gift that we need now more than ever. If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.