Jason Reynolds is the king of engaging young adult literature. We all know that. But Long Way Down, in my opinion, really kicks it up a notch. In this Long Way Down Lit Literature review, I’ll show you just how powerful, and accessible, this novel in verse is.
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What Drew Me to Long Way Down?
Ok, here’s the truth: Long Way Down was my first Jason Reynolds read. I had heard the name everywhere (how could you not?), but none of his titles had really grabbed my attention until Long Way Down came out.
I had been in the middle of planning my first creative writing class, and I was constantly on the lookout for great novels in verse to use as mentor texts.
Long Way Down did not disappoint. The poetry alone dazzles, but the story holds your attention captive. It is grungy and edgy in a way that I knew would appeal to my urban students.
The main character is nineteen-year-old Will. When his brother is murdered in a shooting, Will knows he must do what men do: take care of it.
He leaves his apartment, hellbent on finding his brother’s killer and taking vengeance.
The elevator ride down, however, is an eventful one. On each floor, the elevator stops, allowing a new rider to board. Each of these new characters is a ghost, murdered through the belief of “blood for blood.” And each offers Will advice.
The story is chilling and one that neither you nor your students will forget.
What Makes A Long Way Down “Lit”?
First and foremost, the story is spellbinding. You ache for Will even as he takes on a gruesome task.
Anyone who has lived with an “eye for an eye” mentality or worked closely with students who do will understand Will’s misguided attempt to do what’s right for his brother.
Even as you’re urging him to STOP.
One question sits at the center of the story: is revenge worth it? At what cost?
Reynolds tackles this theme so well that I would urge anyone to teach this novel as an anchor text or as a supplemental text to a classic like Hamlet. (It’s a quick enough read to work as a supplemental text in a busy curriculum!)
This idea is fully supported by the free verse writing style. At first glance, the 300-page book looks like a solid read, but when you open it, you can see that Reynolds has made full use of white space in his storytelling.
You can read the whole book in under an hour.
But that hour is full of complex writing and imagery. Jason Reynolds has complete mastery over the words he chooses throughout the book–each more powerful than the last.
While Reynolds’s writing techniques are sophisticated, his language is easy to comprehend.
This creates that perfect, elusive, beautiful mix of highly engaging storytelling with easy-to-comprehend language.
Who’s The Ideal Reader for Long Way Down?
It is this intermingling of advanced writing with common vocabulary that makes Long Way Down the perfect book for reluctant readers.
Will’s moral dilemma will hook reluctant readers. Students will empathize with the position Will finds himself in.
Meanwhile, Long Way Down will captivate students with excellent examples of writing techniques without bogging readers down with difficult vocabulary or complex sentence structure. This means more discussion and critical thinking and less time spent on low-level comprehension.
This novel really is a win-win for a whole class novel: the content is complex enough to lend itself to highly engaging discussions and writing activities. But the language can be accessed even by readers who are grade levels behind.
While my gut tells me that this book will appeal to the boys in your classroom, I don’t think it’s a “boy book.” Your girls will want to jump in to intervene with Will just as much as anyone. His suffering is universal.
Because the content is so dark and deals directly with gun violence, it’s probably safest to save Long Way Down for high school. I could see this going over well in an eighth-grade classroom, but in that case, you might want to warn parents or request permission first.
Long Way Down Review: The Facts
Title: Long Way Down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: Urban, Realistic Fiction, Poetry
Setting: An elevator ride in an apartment building; present-day
Main Character: Will, a nineteen-year-old teen, distraught and angry over the recent death of his brother.
Number of Pages: 306 (This is deceptive. The writing is all in verse and reads much faster than a narrative of this length would.)
- A Monster Calls: Both novels are high-low books that could appeal to a wide audience and discuss essential life problems
- Black and White: This is another crowd favorite amongst reluctant readers.
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