Long Way Down

I’ve read a lot of good books. And I’ve read a lot of great books. But I’ve read very few books that have completely blown my mind. Long Way Down is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. After I finished it I just sat staring into oblivion trying to rearrange the pieces of my shattered mind. It was that good.

The story takes place in a sixty second time frame – the length of one elevator ride. That’s all. One minute is all it takes to create a story that’s so powerful that you won’t soon forget it.

Fifteen-year-old Will steps on to the elevator with a gun tucked in the back of his pants. His mind is set on avenging his brother’s murder. In his world there are only three rules of conduct when a family member is shot: don’t cry, don’t snitch and always get revenge. As the elevator descends it stops at each floor and a different person walks on. Each person is a figure from Will’s past. All of them had their lives cut short by gun violence. By the time the elevator reaches its destination Will is faced with a decision.

Author Jason Reynolds is a true writer. Every line in this book is brilliantly crafted together for maximum impact. He chose to tell Will’s journey in free verse, packing the most story into as few words as possible. Indeed, some pages only have four lines but can send jolts down your spine more effectively than an entire chapter of prose. The format and spacing of the verses on the pages tell a story just as much as the actual words. In fact I would suggest reading this book twice – first for the story, the second for the format. Jason Reynolds has a gifted command of literary devices and there are so many tiny details added that you can miss on the first read.

It won’t be a problem to read this book twice. I read the entire thing in one sitting. Once I got my mind back in one piece, I read it again – all in the same day. It was definitely time well spent.

Long Way Down (which is also available as a graphic novel) was the winner of The Newbery Book of Honor, The Walter Dean Meyers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature and the Coretta Scott King Award for Non-Violent Social Change.

— Lesley L.