“THE INVENTION OF THE RULES
ain’t come from my brother, his friends, my dad, my uncle, the guys outside, the hustlers and shooters, and definitely not from me.”
― Jason Reynolds,
A Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
There was a ton of buzz around this book. Jason Reynolds has become a key player in YA fiction and is widely respected. However, up until this point I hadn’t read any of his work. I’ve seen him at YALLFest and heard raving reviews regarding his books. So, when Barnes and Noble held a 2 for $20 sale I snatched it up. I am so glad I did.
This year I wanted to read more books just because I wanted to. This book is an example of this. I was dying to read A Long Way Down. I am an avid fan of books written in verse. So, that stood out to me automatically. Then, there was the subject matter of the book.
To give you some background, I work at a school that is lower income. The students live in an environment where crime runs rampant. I had head that this book did a great job addressing and relating to those ideas. I was hoping I could find a book that my students could easily read and relate to.
I found that in more. This book is important. It addresses stereotypes and the cycle that occurs within our society. Reynolds writes in an honest and heartbreaking way. This story is not preaching about what should happen. Instead it gives insight into real situations with real people. Yes, there is a lesson to be learned. But, it doesn’t come across as disingenuous. Reynolds seems to unfold people’s real thoughts, feelings, and ideas that they may otherwise never get to voice.
I will definitely be suggesting this book to my students and buying a copy for my classroom library. I’m excited to see their thoughts on the book.
How do you feel about reading books written in verse?