Book Review: A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
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.
Written entirely verse, Reynolds explores the life of a teen boy as he seeks to exact revenge after watching his brother shot down in the street. In his life, revenge is about duty and honor and respect; it’s what he owes his brother. It’s the code, not an option. The next day, with a revolver in his waistband, Will gets on an elevator and as it descends each floor a new person from his life gets on and drops some wisdom and perspective on him. It’s a brilliant device for exploring complex ideas, and a surprisingly quick read which proves that brevity can pack just as much punch as a multi-tome story.
A Long Way Down is one of the most brilliant novels I have ever read. As the elevator descends and we meet a new person from Will’s life, the cycle of violence is explored in very nuanced and gut wrenching ways. I do not have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to recommend this book, but it is a must have. Readers will turn the last page but they will not stop thinking about this book for a very long time.
Coming October 24th from Antheneum
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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