Book Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

22552026A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

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?

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

This is really a case of it’s not you, it’s me . Objectively, from an intellectual standpoint, this is a really good book. I can look at it and point at all the things it does super well. But it just didn’t click with me, and, to be honest, I’m not really sure why. I liked the concept. I liked a lot of the ideas. I think it might be the fact that it was told in verse, but even there I’m not 100% sure. AAAAH! WHY CAN’T I FIGURE THIS OUT!

And I feel so bad for not loving this book! a) The topics it tackles are very important. b) The idea of having all the people Will knew who died by gun violence visit him during this elevator ride down is so interesting and good . c) Everyone else likes it and I really don’t want to disagree with them, not just because I am a sheep, but also because I don’t want to diminish the values of this book.

I’m just going to shout out the whole concept. We (or at least I) frequently hear it thrown around that violence is cyclical, especially in low-income communities of colour, but, as a white girl from the suburbs of a very boring Canadian city, it’s something that can sometimes be a little hard to wrap my head around. Can’t you just choose not to be violent? after all?

But I think Jason Reynolds masterfully shows how death is like dominoes, if things are lined up just right. Shootings are normalized and you follow The Rules and get revenge on the brother who was shot because he was getting revenge for the friend who was shot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time because another kid felt trapped by circumstance, and the chain goes on and on.

But, and I’m going to say it again, something about it didn’t gel with me. Mentally, I thought it was great, but on a visceral, emotional level, it didn’t impact me the way other books have. The example that springs to mind is The Hate U Give, which had me hook, line, and sinker.

I really think that the deciding factor might be the verse. I haven’t read a lot of books in verse, and I see the merit of the style, once again, from an intellectual standpoint. I think reality can be bent in verse in ways that might be easier than in prose, which allows for things like the dead who join Will in the elevator.

But, at the same time, I sometimes (often?) feel kind of alienated from what’s going on when I read something in verse, and it also sometimes makes the story go too fast. Maybe that’s just how I react to verse, maybe I haven’t read enough books, maybe it was how this one was written. I don’t know. I just know that, as good as I know this book is, I didn’t feel much of anything from it.

Verdict: read it or skip it, it’s up to you.

Have you read many books in verse? What are your thoughts on the form? And what’s a book you feel like you should like, but you just… don’t?

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

  1. I’ve never read any books in verse, and to tell the truth it doesn’t really appeal to me… It’s something I’d sort of like to give a try, but I’m also pretty sure it’s not really my thing, so I’m sort of in no hurry to try it…

    Like

  2. Pingback: March Wrap-Up | Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

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