Staff Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down was recommended to me by my brother, so I had a feeling it was going to be good. While he wanted me to read the graphic novel version of the book, I stuck with the original, which was written in verse. I didn’t realize it was written in verse until I opened up the first page. If you haven’t read a lot of novels written in verse, don’t let the style intimidate you. Jason Reynolds is a fantastic author who focuses on writing stories about the experiences Black people go through in America, and his novels should not be missed!

“Long Way Down” follows William, a 15 year old whose older brother Shawn has just been shot and killed. Where William comes from, there are The Rules, which he believes must always be followed: never cry, never snitch, and always seek revenge. He believes he must now kill the person who killed Shawn – William believes this is a man named Riggs, though he doesn’t have any proof. As William takes the elevator down seven floors to leave his building and find and kill Riggs, he has a most unusual elevator ride. On each floor, someone new enters the elevator. The unusual part is that all of these people are dead. One by one, people from William’s life that he has lost enter and speak to him. They all ask what he’s doing on the elevator and why he has a gun. William’s answers always circle back to The Rules – he has no choice but to get revenge for his brother being killed, doesn’t he?

Almost all of the people who visit William in the elevator are there because of The Rules, reminding William and the reader that vengeance such as this only continues to take people away from their families and loved ones. The entire “action” of the novel takes place in the elevator, but the novel is never stagnant or boring. Reynolds’ does an amazing job of transporting the reader into the elevator with William, feeling his anxiety and nervousness grow as he is confronted over and over again about why he is planning on killing someone. As the visitors continue to enter the elevator, they are people closer and closer to William’s heart, and the reader feels the atmosphere change with each new visitor.

As mentioned, the novel is written in verse, which lends itself to some thought-provoking sentiments. There is something powerful about the metaphors and verses in the novel. For example, the verse inserted below reminds us of the hole that is left when the people we love are gone:

The book is filled with metaphors such as the one above, as well as the broken drawer in Shawn’s dresser and William’s anagrams that he makes throughout the novel. He makes a point of rearranging the letters in various words to make one that is also connected to the first, as he points out here:

As the novel is written in verse, it only makes sense to quote the novel as such. Writing the quotes traditionally do not have the intended impact that Reynolds’ wants by writing the story in verse; hence the images of the pages. Reynolds’ style of writing makes the book feel like a play or a movie being acted out – and indeed, the novel became a stage production in 2018 and the movie rights have been acquired. The novel is powerful and reminds readers the impact of their choices. William is visited by family and childhood friends, all who were shot and killed in his life (some intentionally, others by accident). The repercussions of gang life are evident throughout the novel, as young William, who has never even touched a gun, now believes it is his duty to kill someone. An eye for an eye. This is what has brought all of these people into the elevator and not in William’s everyday life. This story is powerful and leaves the reader attached to young William and wondering what he will do next. If you haven’t already, pick up Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down today!