MTYT: Long Way Down

This month’s My Take/Your Take discussions focus on the 2018 American Library Association (ALA) award winners. Mary Fahrenbruck and Tracy Smiles continue with a discussion of the multi-awarding winning novel, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. The novel, written in free verse poetry won the Newbery Honor Book Award, the Printz Honor Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Honor Award and numerous other awards from organizations other than ALA.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

MARY: I knew before I read this novel that it was going to move me! The elevator ride down to the lobby serves as a clever metaphor for the consequences that will most likely happen to 15-year-old Will if he follows “The Rules.”

1. Don’t Cry
2. Don’t Snitch
3. Get Revenge

Reynolds cleverly introduces new characters into the story each time the elevator stops on its way down to the lobby of Will’s apartment building. As I read, I began to understand that each character has been a victim of The Rules–except Dani. I connected the characters to each other and eventually to Will. But I didn’t expect the story to end the way it did!

The story stayed with me long after the last page. What lingers is Will’s unwavering allegiance to The Rules. His willingness to avenge his brother Shawn’s death without thinking about how the confrontation will play out or the consequences of his revenge. Does he realize that murdering Shawn’s killer will lead to his own murder?

TRACY: You practically took the words right out of my mouth! I’ve been thinking about books that “move me” or that have such an impact they “change” me. It’s been a while since I read something I would characterize this way, but lately I’ve read two such books, This is the Way it Always Is by Laurie Frankel (not a kids’ book) and this book by Jason Reynolds.

The raw, honest look at the consequences surrounding the murder of a Black youth, especially through the emotional perspective of Will, the brother of the victim, is both compelling and compassionate–and I would add unique. Yes, the ending is… wow. Just wow. Not at all what I expected. I have a 15-year-old son whose world is nothing like Will’s world, guided by a different set of rules…. Makes me pause.

There was a lot of buzz about this book at the Tucson Festival of Books. In one session, Jacqueline Woodson was asked what she is reading currently. She said her kids are into Jason Reynolds, so she is, too. I can see why. Not only are we presented with a powerfully relevant story, but the telling is nothing short of brilliant. I am glad you recommended this book, Mary… it leaves a residue I will reflect on not just now–but always.

MARY: I agree that Long Way Down is compelling. In fact, I read it twice! The first time I read the story, I couldn’t stop. I knew I was going to discuss the book for My Take/Your Take, so I tried to read it as a reviewer. Eventually, I surrendered and dropped down into the story. I stood next to Will on the elevator, watching each person get on. At first, I thought the people were trying to talk Will out of getting revenge. Then I thought they were telling him to follow the rules. That’s why the ending is so shocking!

As I said, I read this story twice. The first time I devoured the words on the page. The second reading was slower, and I paused to think about the plot as it unfolded. One aspect of the story that eludes me is the cigarette smoke in the elevator. I’d like to ask our readers, do you think it’s metaphorical? If yes, what do you think it means?

Title: Long Way Down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
ISBN: 9781481438254
Publish Date: October 24, 2017

This is the third installment of April 2018’s My Take/Your Take. The first week Mary and Tracy discuss All Around Us. In the second week, they gave their take on Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut. To follow the whole conversation, check back each Wednesday.

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