Book Review: Long Way Down

Long Way DownLong Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
Published by: Atheneum
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder, Revenge, Family, Gangs, Rules, Ghosts

Summary from Goodreads: 
A 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.

My thoughts: I listened to Long Way Down on audiobook, but now I want to go back and read the book as well! This is a quick listen and a quick read. The audiobook is about two hours (including an interview with Jason Reynolds at the end.) This is a book in verse (which is part of the reason I want to read it after listening to it.) Jason Reynolds also does the narration, and he reads with the intended rhythm and cadence of what he wrote. But I’d love to really dive into his language because he uses some really lovely metaphors and imagery in his verse, which I see more clearly when I can see the words instead of just the audio.

Earlier this year I discussed the idea of books as windows and mirrors. This book was a window book for me in that it gave me insight into a world that I’m not familiar with. This story shows the challenges and culture that urban youth, particularly young black men, deal with in today’s world. Reading Will’s story and knowing it was the reality for many urban teens gave me empathy for the violence they witness, the intense emotions they work through, and the tough choices they must make.

The concept of this story was BRILLIANT. Similar to Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the main character is visited by ghosts of his past as he travels in an elevator. Each floor, a new ghostly visitor appears to him. The atmosphere and tension from this concept is perfection. As a writer, it’s one of those ideas that is so awesome, you wish you’d come up with it.

HR sealofapprovalOverall: A quick, emotional, masterfully written novel in verse. Highly recommend! Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval!

Books as Windows and Mirrors

Windows MirrorsA friend of mine introduced me to the idea of books as windows and mirrors. She introduces the idea to her students at the beginning of the school year as a way of discussing book selection.

A book that serves as a mirror is one that we see ourself in. These kinds of books can help us get a better understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we navigate the world.

For me, a mirror book would be about a white girl who loves books and words. A recent read that was a mirror book for me was A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. While reading that book, I posted something about how the book was “speaking to my heart” because the main character resonated so powerfully with how I see the world.

A book that is window allows you to view a world outside your own. These books are the kind that let you step into another person’s shoes, however briefly, and see the world as they see it. These books promote empathy and understanding for people and situations outside our own experience.

For me, a recent window book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book allowed me to see and understand the world from a black teen’s perspective. The book gave me empathy and understanding for all that a black teen might be dealing with, from code-switching, to police brutality, to interracial relationships, and more.

As you set reading goals for the new year, I encourage you to think of books as windows and mirrors. We need mirror books to become more self-aware and understand ourselves.

But we also need window books. Oh boy, do we need window books. We need to push ourselves to better understand other perspectives. With the understanding and empathy that window books provide, perhaps we can create a world with more love, more peace, and more kindness.

And if you want to watch a great video on the power of reading and empathy, check out this gem from the channel Just Write: