I am a HUGE fan of Jason Reynolds, and this book is another home run. I’m sure by now, many of you have at least heard about this book, and lots of you have probably already read it. Earlier this year, Long Way Down was nominated for multiple literary awards for young people, including: Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and National Book Award. It’s a Battle of the Books title for our Shanghai Battle of the Books, high school edition, which debuts in the 2018-2019 school year. I especially love the slowing down of time in this one, and the fact that about 75 percent of the book takes place inside a one-minute, six second elevator ride down eight floors of an apartment building. WOW.
SUMMARY: When 15-year old Will’s older brother Shawn is shot and dies in the street, Will finds Shawn’s gun and sets out to avenge his death. On the elevator on the way down to the street, ghosts of people from Will’s past get on the elevator. Each person–on old family friend, Will’s childhood friend, his uncle, his father, someone named Frick, and eventually, his brother Shawn–died by gun violence and try to help Will think about whether more gun violence and revenge killing is the answer to his grief.
REVIEW: Oh, the creativity! The setting, characters, and tight writing style make Long Way Down among my favorites of 2017. Each of the ghost characters is so strongly described that I can picture not only them, but also their personalities. We only get a glimpse of who they were, but it’s enough to feel like we know them as characters.
That the bulk of this story takes place in 68 seconds is genius. Carlson Riggs’s life depends on that 68 seconds. After the discussion of the chain-reaction of revenge killings, we also know that Will’s life also depends on that 68 seconds. Does Will break the chain at the end? Do his brother’s ghost’s final two words keep Will from carrying through with his revenge plan? What a great discussion for a high school English class! The last chapter–only two words, but so powerful–just beg for students to write a “what happened next” ending. I seriously get chills just thinking about that ending and those two words. Wow, wow, wow.
Long Way Down is perfect for reluctant readers, particularly boys who live in urban settings. It’s short and written in free verse. As I mentioned, it mirrors real life for many. Even if your library patrons are suburban or rural teens, Will’s anger and grief and sadness over his brother’s untimely death is palpable.
THEMES: gun violence, grief, revenge
THE BOTTOM LINE: A MUST for all high school libraries and strongly recommended for upper-middle schoolers as well. Yes, there is gun violence and some profanity, but this story is so much more important than a little language and violence. It’s real and gritty and reflects the lives of far too many of our young adults. So much in this book depends on decisions made in 68 seconds. Truly, a must-read.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it. It is easy to booktalk and popular with my students. I’ve just bought more copies for Battle of the Books and because it is just that popular.
- Overall: 5/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: medium; only one F-bomb, a few shits and damns
- Sexuality: very mild; Will appreciates a girl’s curves
- Violence: medium; the whole story is about gun violence and revenge killing; a few mild references to blood on clothing and the sidewalk
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; cigarette-smoking