Book Title: Long Way Down (Standalone) Author: Jason Reynolds Number of pages: 320
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?
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– A fully formed story with 99% of the words removed, seriously.
– Claustrophobic and introspective realistic fiction with themes of gun violence, power, and family at the heart of it all
– Setting and characters may not be discretely described but they act as vessels to this cyclical story that can apply anywhere
My first verse novel ayyyy.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Long Way Down from Simon and Schuster Canada and at Book Expo.
Long Way Down centers around Will as he travels down the elevator, level-by-level, with his brother’s gun, as he unfurls the layers of the lives he thought he knew and the passengers that tell their story — and his story — as they all travel toward ground floor together. But once those doors open…where does that lead Will?
Long Way Down caught me off guard. This is the first verse novel I read beginning-to-end and my first Reynolds story (despite being the owner of a few of his titles). I went into this story not knowing what to expect. It’s verse, yeah, but it’s also realistic fiction which can often allow narratives to seem a bit predictable, you know? As if there’s always a message or an “a-ha!” moment to take away topics that we see play out in stories and in real life. This book eclipses that. It takes what we’ve come to expect and seen of gun violence in less-than neighborhoods and explores it in a way that opens more doors than it closes.
You get the anger, the confusion, and the love surrounding the characters of this life…but you also get this unadulterated and compelling truth of reality. This is Long Way Down.
I had this thought that I wouldn’t be able to critique how this book comes to life…but actually, what impresses me about the “world-building” (for a lack of a better world) is that bare bones of it all, in some weird way, allows for Will’s story to be more resilient and real as there’s no excess of flourished nouns to build a body of context when the substance is already there in what many of us see every day in differing capacities.
By the same merit though, I can also appreciate if there was more of a definitive setting because what if my view on these boroughs are skewed or not as effectively imagined if it was vividly canon? It’s an honest toss-up.
Further, as the bulk of this book takes place inside an elevator, there’s a haunting closeness (not claustrophobia, albeit possible) in the verse that creates this taut dialogue to introspectively question the entire situation. Why why why why why — the line of questioning going several levels deep and pulls from our moral selves to engage the content of this story. But as far as elevators scenes go in fiction, there’s a lot of staying power here.
Speaking to the verse (and I don’t know if all poetry is like this so I could be grossly misguided on this front), what I appreciated the most was how Long Way Down read like a fully formed story stripped of frivolity where only the framework of the story remained. And it’s almost wizardry how so much power can come from such few words. This book is only 300+ pages, and in truth, will only take you an hour+ to read (or more if you’re slow as shit like me), but the dialogues summoned by this story speaks volumes to the social climate today, the power struggle assumed by life, and the relationships that ground us to make the decisions we do.
I also thoroughly enjoyed how some verses were formatted; that the placement of words matched the direction of the language. Not sure how I can give an example, so just take my word for it.
This is some powerful shit, y’all.
While the characters in this story are unique in the sense that they were written for this story, my takeaway was that they are all vessels with the capacity of latching onto similar experiences. This story does not belong to one person – just think about this for a second.
As the narrative unfolds with intense introspection and a dire urgency in plot, readers aren’t given the time and space for nuanced character development. There is no time to breathe. Often, readers get to glimpse nuanced growth that comes with the passage of time and dialogue (see: “chill time”, as I would like to call it), but Long Way Down doesn’t offer that. It’s a blessing and a curse because although there’s some witness into moments of character development, the way this story is structured is that it forcibly becomes an afterthought — a takeaway of discussion — where readers see the grit of individuality (or possible lack to discuss the events that unfolded.
I’m honestly at a loss for words as to how to review this kind of book because is this really a fictional story? I mean, it may be, but Long Way Down is yesterday and today and tomorrow. That in itself is what makes this an important experience to understand even if it doesn’t offer any cookie cutter answers. It’s a culmination of the cyclical nature of humanity — of life and death — and the variables of influence that We put into it. Jason Reynolds has written a true thinker and it certainly opens the narrative to our lives that is a long way down.