Another brilliant book told in verse (similar to those by Kwame Alexander), Long Way Down takes place in a single elevator ride over 60 seconds. I was doubtful that this could be pulled off successfully, but my god, what Jason Reynolds does here is extraordinarily effective.
Will is mourning the sudden shooting death of his brother, Shawn. According to “the rules” of his neighborhood, Will must now plan to take his brother’s gun and shoot the boy who he thinks killed his brother.
There are three: don’t
cry, don’t snitch, and if someone you love
find the person
As he takes the elevator down to the ground, it stops on each of the 7 floors below his apartment. On each stop, someone from his past enters the elevator — each of them know and have followed “the rules” and they all give him advice regarding the task he is about to carry out. Some of these people are close to Will, some of them are strangers, but they all have something to share with him.
AND YOU KNOW
it’s weird to know
a person you don’t know
and at the same time
a person you know,
This book is an amazing accomplishment. We learn about Will’s entire life and all of the events that have led him to this point, all in a single elevator ride. We learn about who he has loved and who he has lost, and how where he lives has shaped him as a person.
Shawn was a great brother and Will’s role model, and Will loved him. But that doesn’t mean that Shawn was a clean living, law abiding citizen. Will wasn’t surprised that Shawn was murdered right in front of him, and doesn’t think twice about seeking revenge. And Will seems like a really smart kid, illustrating just how messed up the entire situation is, not just for Will, but for thousands of kids like him.
The suggested age range for this book is grades 7-9, but I disagree. I think mature 6th graders could — and should — read it, as should anyone older than 9th grade. We should all be talking about this book’s ending, or lack thereof — does Will follow The Rules, even if his target isn’t the right guy? Will the cycle of violence ever end? Or does Will rise above The Rules? I honestly don’t know.