There is no fitting way that I can think of to describe a book of this caliber. I cannot even admit that I have completely understood the full magnitude that this story carries.
Long Way Down takes place in a span of one minute.
It is set in an elevator, in which a young, angry boy gets on and begins his long journey down.
An instant. That is all it takes. An elevator ride down, seven floors.
In one minute, Jason Reynolds changes your perception of everything.
In that one minute, you are blindsided.
In that one minute, he leaves you reeling.
In a single minute, the book outlines the life of this young man, Will, the day after his brother, Shawn, was found shot dead. Will knows the rules. He lives by the rules.
1. You don’t cry
2. You don’t snitch
3. You seek revenge
Will is absolutely certain he knows the man behind the murder, and he is out for vengeance. After a long sleepless night, he wakes up knowing exactly how his day is going to go. He finds his brother’s gun and leaves the house with the intention of going after the person responsible for his brother’s death. He steps onto the elevator, but it keeps stopping at every floor, forcing Will to confront his fears, his doubts and most importantly, his beliefs.
Long Way Down is written in verse-form, and although this style is usually not my preferred style, Jason Reynolds set a completely new standard with his writing, eloquence and articulation. He manages to deliver clear, distinct and important messages with just a few words. In fact, the book will not take you more than 30 minutes to read, but the impact left afterwards is powerful and long lasting. In an interview I read, Jason Reynolds says:
“I need my young brothers who are living in these environments, and the kids who are not living in these environments to have no excuses not to read the book. The truth of the matter is that I recognize that I write prose, and I love prose, and I want everybody to read prose, but I would never, sort of, deny the fact that like, literacy in America is not the highest, especially amongst young men, and especially amongst young men of color. It's something that we've all been working very hard on, and my job is not to critique or judge that. My job is to do something to help that, and to know you can finish this in 45 minutes means the world to me, so that we can get more young people reading it and thinking and then having discussions on what this book is actually about.”
He also explains that he set the story in an elevator, because he wanted to mimic the feelings of anger, pain and helplessness. To him, these feel claustrophobic, like you are wound up tight.
“It feels like tightness and coldness, steel, jagged movements and vertigo. All the things that an elevator brings, is what it feels like to be that angry.”
One of the reasons Reynolds was able to convey these feelings so accurately was because of his own past experiences struggling with those same feelings of anger and pain when his best friend was killed, and his first impulse was to end the life of the person responsible. He also wanted to change the perception that people who commit these crimes are fearless or without emotion.
“The truth is that everyone who has ever been around anyone who has been in these environments knows that the people who pull the triggers are terrified.”
Long Way Down really pushes boundaries, questions your thoughts and beliefs and does not shy away from treading on important topics, such as race and gun violence. Getting a glimpse, albeit a very brief one, of Reynolds’ way of thinking makes you look at things differently and go, “Ahh, yes. I see now.”