Long Way Down
Simon & Schuster, October, 2017 304 pages
Told in a series of narrative poems, fifteen-year-old Will experiences the shooting of his beloved older brother. After a terrible night of guilt and grief he finds himself on an elevator with a gun tucked into his waistband and his heart seeking revenge. At every level a new soul steps into the elevator and interacts with Will, only they aren't real people. Everyone who steps into the elevator is a ghost who is the victim of gun violence and is an important influence in Will's life. The rules of the community dictate that men are not allowed to feel grief by crying and that revenge is a necessary step in honoring the dead. As one figure after another arrives and tells their tale Will's past is revealed, as is his place in the cycle that is urban violence with its own set of codes, gang life, and heartache. Will he step off the elevator in the lobby and seek out the kid whom he is pretty sure killed his brother or will he break the cycle and stop the madness?
Jason Reynolds is rapidly replacing Neil Gaiman as my favorite author and not ONLY because he's as good looking as Neil Gaiman, although that helps, but because, like Gaiman, Reynolds is an eclectic writer who is comfortable writing for different age levels and in different genres. He collaborates with other authors and has put out a staggering amount of work in the past couple of years, all of it quality. Reynolds's latest, Long Way Down is for an older teen audience and is urban, gritty, and unapologetic in promoting non-gun violence and anti-gang themes. Much in the vein of Kwame Alexander, Reynolds presents contemporary issues in a narrative poetry style in order to reach young men, perhaps on their own terms, making them think. The poems are beautiful, yet read easily, and will be readily consumed by the target audience. The book is beautifully designed with an intriguing cover that will make readers look twice. I thought the concept of a single elevator ride would prove boring, yet this book was anything but. With each new level a new layer of Will's story is revealed, finally breaking down his walls and forcing him to question the code of life which holds him hostage. It reads quickly, yet packs an emotional wallop and has a lot to say without being preachy. Reynolds always nails characters and this book is no exception. Readers will experience what life is like for Will and walk for a short elevator ride in his Jordans. A moving piece of work by a talented artist.