My first reaction after reading Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down was not favorable. I picked up the book soon after it received Newbery, Printz, and Coretta Scott King honors, and I was not prepared for such a raw story. I nearly discounted the book altogether because it differed so much from my misconceived notions of what I thought it would be.
I still think of this book. It has stayed with me more than many others I have read. While there are lots reasons to read a book, I think it is easy to discount books that make us uncomfortable, and this book makes me uncomfortable. Having said that, I think it is also one of the best books I have ever read.
Here are three things I like about this book:
- Jason Reynolds’ style. This was my first Reynolds’ read. His words cut to the heart of the matter in a beautiful and deceivingly simple way. My favorite poem was the short “And You Know”: “it’s weird to know/ a person you don’t know/ and at the same time/ not know/ a person you know,/ you know?”
- The structure. In general, I love the novel-in-verse format, but Long Way Down has the added structure of descending the floors in an apartment building. The protagonist takes an elevator from his floor to the main level, and at each floor, a new person enters the elevator. Except the added person is really a ghost of someone who has been killed from an act of violence, and our protagonist is riding the elevator while he contemplates seeking revenge against his brother’s murderer. Incredible structure creates palpable tension.
- The honesty. As I have alluded to, this is not a fluffy read, and I appreciate that Reynolds does not diminish the protagonist’s internal struggle.
Long Way Down is best for high schoolers. It could be a good choice for a reading group that is willing to have difficult but honest conversations.