Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Trigger warnings: Death, gun violence, blood

SynopsisA 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.

Review: To put it simply, this book was incredible. If you're looking to get into books written in verse, I highly recommend this one. We follow Will as he watches his brother get shot and killed in their neighborhood. In Will's neighborhood, you are expected to take revenge if someone you love is killed. Those are the rules. The other rules are no crying and no snitching. As he is taking the elevator down to kill the person he thinks killed his brother, the elevator stops at each floor and other people get on. As the story progresses, you realize all the people getting on the elevator are victims of gun violence. From there, hard conversations are had about life and death. Each character fits in Will's life in some way and it's interesting seeing how these threads connect to one another. No character felt flat or unnecessary. Like I said, they are all victims of gun violence, but none of their stories felt repetitive. 

I'll be honest, Long Way Down has an open-ending. I like that because it allows readers to speculate on what Will does. Again, Will is just trying to follow the rules. The rules he's known his entire life. Let's break these rules down a little. One is no snitching. I don't know what the author's definition of snitching is but, in my mind, as these additional characters tell their stories to Will, they are snitching on themselves. They confide in him the good and the bad they had to endure in life. Another rule is no crying. This is an emotional book. Some of the characters tell Will about mistakes they made and it brings them to tears. Maybe out of shame. Maybe out of relief. Still, they cry openly to Will. The last rule is to take revenge. We see this in a few different ways through this story. I'm not going to go into detail because that's part of understanding these characters. My take on the ending, I like to think that seeing people Will admired break the rules of crying and snitching gave him silent permission to break the rules too. So he didn't have to feel like he got revenge. Especially in the situation of his neighborhood where not everything is what it seems. There is also a great book to discuss how gun violence doesn't end if people keep sticking to these ideals of revenge. At some point, a person has to be willing to admit that there's more than one person at fault and nothing is an easy fix.

Fantastic book with beautiful characters and messages.

5 howls

Potential talking points: 
-The concept of revenge
-Gun violence