Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Published by Faber & Faber, 2018
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Bar the opening chapter, the entirety of Long Way Down takes place during a single elevator ride. With Will’s brother having been killed in a gang related shooting, he is on his way to exact revenge on his killer. But at each subsequent floor, the elevator stops and what appears to be the ghost of someone who was killed by the same gun now tucked into the back of Will’s jeans steps in. The memories of these people will force Will to question his resolve; to consider the implications of his actions and imagine the various potential outcomes of pulling the trigger.
Thematically, this is a swift yet incisive look at the dangers of gang violence, and its prevalence within poor, Black communities. It discusses with clarity the moral complexities of seeking revenge and the need to break the toxic cycle of violence.
The novel is written in verse, and while this stylistic choice can feel like a gimmick at times, in this instance I think it elevates both the narrative and its themes. Firstly, it adds a brevity and a sense of urgency which feel appropriate given the short span of time being covered, but it also works on a visual front. The compact nature of the text on the page reflects the book’s claustrophobic, contained setting; your eye being forced to stream down the pages in quick succession mirroring Will’s physical journey.
For the most part, the writing style itself is simple and straightforward, which works given our teenage protagonist. There are certainly some striking images peppered throughout, however, like when Will describes the murder scene: “His blood added to the pavement galaxy of bubble-gum stars”, and how he sees his mother, “hanging over my brother’s body like a dimmed light post”.
This has a lot to say socially, but it also functions as a timely and emotionally resonant story of family, community, inheritance, and agency. An excellent crossover read, I can see it working well for adult and teen readers alike.
You can pick up a copy of Long Way Down by clicking here.