Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


Goodreads: Long Way Down
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017


Will just watched his older brother die.  And he’s pretty sure he knows the guy who shot him.  So it’s time to follow the Rules.  The most important Rule?  Get revenge.  But as Will takes the elevator down to find his target, he is joined by a series of spirits who tell him their stories.  It seems that the Rules solve nothing and only continue the cycle of violence.  And suddenly Will has a choice: follow the Rules and end up like Shawn, or ignore the Rules his family has passed down for generations.  A novel told in verse about the futility of gun violence.

Star Divider


Jason Reynolds has previously impressed me with his vivid characterization and his sympathetic portrayals of young people trying to make their way through a broken world.  I was therefore very excited for Long Way Down, which has collected an impressive array of awards and honors.  However, though it pains me to say so, I did not connect with Long Way Down in the way I expected.  Instead, I was left with the impression that the awards were given for the message of the book and not for the actual execution of the story.

Long Way Down continues a long tradition of ghost tales in which individuals from the afterlife return to convince the protagonist to make better choices.  In this case, protagonist Will must be persuaded that following the Rules of his neighborhood–the Rules that demand he kill the person who killed his brother–will result in his death and continue the cycle of gun violence in his neighborhood.  This is an obviously didactic approach and one that must be handled deftly if readers are to immerse themselves in the story and not feel instead like they are receiving a Very Important Message.  And here the story struggles.

The bulk of the story focuses on various ghosts as they enter Will’s elevator and reveal details about their lives Will previously did not know.  As each new ghost appears, it becomes clear that the men in Will’s family have fallen one by one as they, following the Rules, were in turn shot by someone else following the Rules.  But as each ghost tells their story, Will himself fades into the background.  It is thus difficult to connect with Will or to feel his struggle, even though this is the critical point upon which the story turns.  Readers know more about Will’s confusion about how ghosts smoke than they know about his inclination to choose to follow or to reject the Rules.

Obviously, promoting an end to gun violence is a very laudable goal and it is heartening that Jason Reynolds chose to use his platform to spread a positive message.  In this respect, I commend Long Way Down.  However, I wish that the story had spent a little more time with Will so that readers could truly get to know him, before his story was subsumed by the stories of the others.  I appreciate that his story is, of course, a continuation of theirs.  But I still wanted to hear Will’s voice more.  The point of a book like this is to make a message personal, to make readers understand why Will sees a choice where someone else might see no choice at all.  But it is difficult to hear Will’s voice when the moral of the story is shouting over him.

3 Stars

17 thoughts on “Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

  1. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I have heard others express the same concerns with Long Way Down. That said, I’m so impressed with Reynolds’ other works I know I’ll be reading this some day.

    However, one consideration is that all the people I know who have read this book and shared their opinions with me are middle-aged white women. Perhaps this story might connect more with a middle-grade person of color? I think back to my time teaching in inner-city schools. The books the students connected to were often overt in their messages. Does it matter how good the writing is if the children who need to hear the message finally do hear it?


    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good question and something I’ve thought about, though I obviously can’t speak for the experience of the intended audience. I do the poetry could really appeal to that age group, though. Children tend to be open to new things and kind of experimental in ways adults, set in our genre preferences, may no always be. And they often like to write poetry, too!

      The book definitely has a lot going for it. And it’s covered in medals. It’s just not my favorite by Reynolds, even though I generally love his work.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, it just didn’t work for me. Maybe I’m not representative of the general readership, though, because it’s sure covered in medals! XD


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