long way down by jason reynolds

OverProject (72).png

Often times as a reader you come across stories that leave you staring off into the distance after you’ve read the last page and closed the book. In fact, you’re still thinking about it days later. It sits with you and makes you ponder what you THINK you know or understand. Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down is one of those books! What I love most about this book is that Reynold’s decided to take a non traditional route in writing this heartbreaking story of the never ending cycle of street life. Rather than write in standard chapter form, he chose to write in poetry which I thought was brilliant. It was raw and real but poetic and beautiful. This is a story that flows so easily, it can be finished in one sitting not just because of the short form, but because of the desire to know where all of the people in his life are taking him - introspectively.

What Reynold’s did was wrap a very layered narrative in staccato. Yet, was able to do so where there were NO spaces. NO slow parts. NO disconnection. There was a rhythm. He wants the reader to understand the “code” of street life; the toll it takes on families and communities. He wants the reader to feel the pain of each character - the consequence of impulse. From a personal perspective, I chose to live a different life from the environment I grew up in. I grew up in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago {unfortunately coined ChIRAQ} and to date is still probably the worst district, not just in Illinois, but in all of the United States. It is on the low-income to impoverished end of the socio-economic spectrum which of course leads to hopelessness. Subsequently leaving communities riddled with gang violence where there are multiple lives taken daily living under the very “street code” Reynold’s story is focused on - one life for another often resulting in innocent bystanders losing their lives as well, but it is the reality in which we live and Reynold’s left no stone un-turned in defining what it means to be fully caught up in it.

Above: Long Way Down Illustration by Chris Priestley

The entire story takes place in sixty seconds on a smoky elevator. Will, the main character, is struggling to deal with the murder of his brother Shawn. Young will steps onto the elevator with his brothers gun tucked in the waistband of his pants and dead set on going after Riggs, a childhood friend of he and Shawn, whom he believes murdered his brother, but what proof does he have? What I thought was one of the most important ideas in this story, and there were many, is that within the hell bent revenge of Will there was uncertainty yet he was willing to take a life without undeniable proof. He only had speculation and pain to fuel him. It’s how the cycle starts. One life is taken. Revenge is born and retaliation destroys everything and everyone.

There are seven floors down to the first and at each floor a new character is introduced; someone who is directly or indirectly connected to Will. The one that wrecked me the most was Dani. Will doesn’t recognize her, but she recognizes him. He only remembers her as his childhood friend when she takes a picture from her wallet of them as kids. However Dani, like the others who enters the elevator lost her life to the unforgiving streets, but Dani was just a young child caught in the crossfire. The others who enter the elevator - Will & Shawn’s Father {Pop}, Buck, Uncle Mark, Frick and eventually his brother - began to unravel a story that left Will shocked and confused. What he thinks he knows about their murders turns out to be untrue. This is where you decide to grab this book to discover how it all went down ;-). Shawn always told Will, “No crying. No snitching. Only revenge,” but as he learns the truth about the deaths of everyone he loves, his brother does the thing he told Will NEVER to do. Cry.

OverProject (73).png

Will loses everyone he knows and loves by the time he is 15 years old and everyone on that elevator was trying to steer him down the right path. They were trying to stop him from making the mistakes they made, with the exception of Dani, for doing something that could not only alter, but ultimately end his life. I had all of these thoughts swirling in my head about the elevator. What was it? What did it represent? Was it a coffin being lowered into the ground? Was it a dream or just the deep recesses of Will’s mind as he was getting ready to take a life? Had Will already made the decision to seek revenge and the reason he could see his loved ones is because he was dead as well? I loved that Reynold’s did not answer any of these questions definitively and that it’s left to the reader to sort of decide Will’s fate. He could’ve succumbed to the same violence he saw growing up or not. In the end when his brother stepped tearfully off of the elevator and asked, “You coming?” I felt it could’ve went either way.

OverProject (74).png

Will either already made his decision to seek revenge and his life was lost or with all of the information he had been given, he had an opportunity to answer his brother and tell his brother, “No. I’m not coming”. It ended perfectly because the ending was unclear. It only takes a split second to decide which path you will take in life. I feel like that’s why Reynold’s ended the story the way he did. He wants the reader to weigh in on that decision. Long Day Down has to be one of my absolute favorite reads of this year. I highly recommend you read it!!!

Rating: 5/5