Holy crap, you guys. This book is…not what I expected. And really, really good. Heartbreaking. Eye-opening.
somehow still make
like brothers. (page 37, Kindle edition)
Written in verse (but it is not a book of poetry), which I didn’t realize going in and which did not at all stop me from getting sucked into the story, Long Way Down is full of poetic ache and poetic violence and of the mundane hard realities of life in some neighborhoods of what could be any city, USA. I don’t think the narrator ever identifies his location beyond his mother’s apartment and the blacktop basketball court nearby, and nine blocks of his neighborhood. Our narrator, fifteen-year-old Will (as he introduces himself in verse on page 2), opens up explaining he doesn’t expect the reader to believe him about what’s happened and the story starts with his brother, Shawn, being shot and killed. And the book is narrated two days after the shooting, which means one day after the events he relates about The Rules, and what he sets off to do in the wake of his brother’s death.
ANOTHER THING ABOUT THE RULES
They weren’t meant to be broken.
They were meant for the broken
to follow. (p. 35)
To get to the street, Will has to take the stairs or the elevator from the seventh floor to the lobby. He chooses the elevator, only the elevator stops at every floor on the way down. And at each floor, another of the dead joins him.
…I know ain’t
nothing sweet about blood.
I know it ain’t like chocolate syrup
at all. (p. 23)
Which is a lesson we learn he learned when he was six years old.
The story told in these spare lines of verse is of a life broken before it even really had a chance to grow, of revenge and the morality of it, of living life in a war zone you were born in and don’t feel you have the way to get out. And it’s not clear what choice Will makes in the end. It’s hard reading, and I have Thoughts about it that aren’t really appropriate for a book review because spoilers, and while this is not a story that could be spoiled I think the first reading will be more thought-provoking the less the new reader knows.