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Going Down?

Three rules, one gun. It's a Long Way Down in Jason Reynold's powerful book.

Going Down?

BOOK REPORT for Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Cover Story: Grim
Drinking Buddy: Damn
Testosterone Level: Innocence Lost
Talky Talk: Verse
Bonus Factors: Ghosts, Elevators
Bromance Status: The Whole Ride

Cover Story: Grim

I love the minimalist elevator buttons with the fuzzy reflection of the kid...or is that a ghost? Either way, it sums up the plot nicely. Each page has dirt and scratches behind the text, like the wall of an elevator in the projects.

The Deal:

Fifteen-year-old Will lives in a neighborhood where it's not a matter of if someone you know will be shot, but when. And there are strict rules when it happens to someone you love. You don't cry. You don't snitch. You just get your revenge.

Will's beloved older brother, Shawn, was killed last night. And Will is pretty sure he knows who did it. With his brother's pistol, Will wakes up early and heads for the elevator, determined to even the score. But the car stops on each floor and a passenger gets on. Someone Will knows. Someone who was shot. And Will finds himself having to justify his plans for a shooting, to people who died from gun violence.

Six floors.

Drinking Buddy: Damn

We're never told which city Will lives in. New  York? LA? Detroit? Chicago? DC? It doesn't matter. It's one of those neighborhoods where people openly sell crack and you know what to do when the gunfire starts. Some people dream of getting out. Most have given up.

Will's not a violent kid nor a thug. He loved his brother dearly, and can't let this tragedy slide. It's the code of his neighborhood. His father followed it. His uncle. His friends.

Of course, they're all dead now. Shot.

Nice characterization of a kid in way over his head, trying to get back what he can never have again: his brother.

Testosterone Level: Innocence Lost

When a ghost challenges Will to tell him his exact plan, Will kind of sputters. He's going to go to the dude's building, ring the bell, and when he opens the door, He will...you know. Do what he has to do. Code of the neighborhood. He can do it.

When a ghost asks him if his brother's gun is even loaded, Will realizes he has no idea. The ghost has to show him how to check.

Yet another kid, forced to become a man through no desire of his own. No matter what he chooses, things will never be the same.

Talky Talk: Verse

This is a book in verse, kind of an ongoing stream of consciousness transcript. Each page only includes a couple of paragraphs, if that. I read this 300 page book in one sitting.

I think the book works better that way. We don't need a lot of background about the neighborhood or dozens of extra side characters. It's a boy in an elevator with a gun and ghosts. Are they real? Is this a dream? Is he losing his mind? You'll tear through this one and want more.

Bonus Factor: Ghosts

These are not scary ghosts, nor are they the preachy Christmas Past kind. None of the spirits ever tell Will he's doing the wrong thing or that he's going to be sorry. They just share their stories and the consequences they had to live with...

Whoops, poor choice of words.

And when the elevator reaches the lobby, the choice is all Will's.

Bonus Factor: Elevator

Elevators are kind of weird, and Will points this out. You're trapped in a tiny room with other people, no one talks to each other, you check to make sure you're headed to the right floor and then just stand there. Of course, this is no normal elevator ride, either. His fellow passengers are actually smoking cigarettes! And they're dead.

Bromance Status: The Whole Ride

I was with your from floor 7 all the way down. And it was a hell of a ride.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• For another fine book by the same author, try The Boy in the Black Suit.

• For another depressing book about a shooting, read Jennifer Brown's Hate List.

• For another depressing urban book, try Tap Out by Eric Devine.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor beer for writing this review.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.