On My Bookshelf: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

July 22, 2019

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is written in verse and is a quick read that will leave you with more questions than answers at the end. The moral dilemma of the main character and the connections students might make with their own lives make this a book to highlight, rather than just include in your classroom library. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: 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.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is written in verse and is a quick read that will leave you with more questions than answers at the end. The moral dilemma of the main character and the connections students might make with their own lives make this a book to highlight, rather than just include in your classroom library. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: Long Way Down is written in verse and is a quick read that will leave you with more questions than answers at the end. I enjoyed posting about it on Instagram and hearing what others think happens at the end. As I read the book, I couldn't help but think of the population of students I taught at the start of my teaching career and how the author captured a sad, but all too accurate reality of many of their daily lives. 

Classroom application: I would recommend this book to middle school and up, though there is some infrequent language and violence. The moral dilemma of the main character and the connections students might make with their own lives make this a book to highlight, rather than just include in your classroom library. While I have not yet used it as a read aloud, its length and powerful message would make it an excellent choice, and I've also heard great things about the audio version, which is read by the author.

The novel could be paired with Elijah Anderson's essay, "The Code of the Streets," or compared with other stories or poems with ambiguous endings, like "The Lady, or the Tiger?" I love to debate the ending of those types of stories with students and push them to find evidence in the text to support their interpretation of the ending.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Long Way Down for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is written in verse and is a quick read that will leave you with more questions than answers at the end. The moral dilemma of the main character and the connections students might make with their own lives make this a book to highlight, rather than just include in your classroom library. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

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