Long Way Down

Jason Reynolds's (As Brave As You; Ghost) newest YA novel begins "I haven't/ told nobody the story/ I'm about to tell you./ And truth is, you probably ain't/ gon' believe it either.../ but I'm telling you,/ this story is true."

The day before yesterday, 15-year-old Will's older brother, Shawn, purportedly crossed rival lines to go to the other side of their largely black neighborhood. During Shawn's absence, Will and his friend heard shots. We waited, Will says, "for the rumble to stop,/ before picking our heads up/ and poking our heads out/ to count the bodies./ This time/ there was only one": Shawn. Now, two days later, Will abides by "The Rules" he's been taught. He won't cry, he won't snitch and, most importantly, he will follow the third rule: "if someone you love/ gets killed,/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them." He finds a gun in Shawn's dresser and sets off.

Will gets on the elevator at 9:08:02 a.m. The next 200-plus pages of action take place between the time Will enters the elevator and when it reaches the lobby a moment later, at 9:09:09 a.m. At each floor on Will's long trip down, a friend or loved one from Will's past boards; each new passenger is dead, a victim of gun violence. As the ghosts of those killed tell Will their stories, their interconnected tales are untangled; Will begins to understand why The Rules are the rules and how they perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Reynolds's work is rich with symbolism, the verse lending a feeling of immediacy to the 300-page, 60-second journey. Long Way Down is an intense read with an ambiguous ending that highlights the humanity of those who are regularly touched by and contribute to gun violence. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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