An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
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.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
|Publisher:||Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Jason Reynolds is crazy. About stories. He is a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. His debut novel was When I Was the Greatest and was followed by Boy in the Black Suit and All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely); As Brave As You; Jump Anyway; and the first two books in the Track series, Ghost and Patina. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
Long Way Down
which is why I haven’t
told nobody the story
I’m about to tell you.
And truth is,
you probably ain’t
gon’ believe it either
gon’ think I’m lying
or I’m losing it,
but I’m telling you,
this story is true.
It happened to me.
It so did.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
Long Way Down
By Jason Reynolds
About the Book
Will has known about the rules ever since his childhood friend was killed on the playground, and he’s followed the first two: no crying, and no snitching. When his older brother, Shawn, is shot and killed while walking home from the store, Will knows he is expected to follow the final rule and avenge his brother’s death. He knows where Shawn keeps his gun, and he thinks he knows who the shooter is: a member of a rival gang named Riggs. Even if Will has never used a gun—never even held a gun before—rules are rules. But in the elevator on the way down to meet Riggs, Will encounters family and friends who died playing by the rules, and now Will has to decide what he is going to do when the elevator reaches its final stop.
1. Using details revealed in the text, create a character sketch or character collage of the book’s protagonist.
2. Unlike a traditional prose novel, Long Way Down is written in verse. Poets are known for using language intentionally and with precision, often choosing words with connotative and denotative meaning. Reflect on the significance of the protagonist’s name. The word Will can be used as a proper name, but also as a verb and a noun. In what ways does the protagonist encompass multiple meanings of his name?
3. What are “The Rules”? Do you agree that these three rules exist? If so, can you remember how you learned about them? If not, are there other unspoken rules that you follow instead? What do you think Will means when he writes: “They weren’t meant to be broken./They were meant for the broken/to follow.”
4. When we analyze poems, we pay attention to the poem’s format. This includes things like length, shape, line breaks (including the use of enjambment and caesura), and spacing on the page. Identify a section of the novel where you think the format adds meaning to a passage and explain how the poem’s format impacts the meaning.
5. Will enjoys finding anagrams, especially when the anagram illuminates or comments on the meaning of the original word. Explain the connections between the anagrams that he creates. Why are they significant to the story?
6. When Shawn turned eighteen, what did his mother worry about? What do you think she meant in saying that when Shawn walked in the nighttime, he needed to make sure that the nighttime wasn’t walking in him? Do you think Shawn tried to heed his mother’s warning?
7. Will includes a list of nicknames for a gun. Are there any other nicknames that you know of that he did not include? What are the different connotations of each name? When Will puts the gun in the back of his pants, what nickname does he use for it? What does his choice suggest about his feelings toward carrying the gun?
8. Who does Will believe killed his brother? What are his reasons for believing this? Do you think he’s right?
9. Throughout the novel, Will uses figurative language (simile, metaphor) to describe things or feelings. For example, when he holds Shawn’s gun for the first time, he notes that it is, “Heavier than/I expected/like holding/a newborn.” In this example, the juxtaposition of the image of a newborn baby with the weight of the gun highlights the deadliness of the gun and loss of Will’s innocence. Find an example of figurative language that you think is especially effective and explain why it is significant.
10. How does Will plan to avenge his brother’s death? In this moment, do you think he is doing the right thing?
11. Through flashbacks, Will shares memories of his brother. What do each of these memories reveal about their relationship?
12. When the first ghost enters the elevator, Reynolds includes a time stamp at the top of the page. How much time elapsed between the first stop and the bottom floor? Why do you think Reynolds includes these indications of the passage of time? Do they inform or complicate your understanding of the text?
13. How does Will recognize the first ghost that enters the elevator? What was the ghost’s relationship to Shawn and Will? What message do you think he is trying to convey with his words and actions?
14. Why doesn’t Will recognize Dani at first? What questions does she have for Will? What message do you think she is trying to share with him?
15. Why did Uncle Mark start dealing drugs? Why did he keep dealing? How did he die? Why do you think Uncle Mark wants Will to act out what will happen when he follows the rules? What message is he trying to convey with his words and actions?
16. How did Will’s father die? How does the relationship between Uncle Mark and Will’s father parallel the relationship between Will and Shawn? Why do you think Will’s father pulls the gun on Will? Does Will understand what his father is trying to show him?
17. Frick is the only ghost to enter the elevator whom Will does not know. How is he related to the story? Why do you think he visits Will?
18. The last person who enters the elevator is Shawn. What does Will tell his brother? How does Shawn respond? What rule do both brothers break? Do you think Shawn wants Will to avenge his death by shooting Riggs? Explain your answer.
19. The last words in the book are a question. How do you think Will answers this question? Where do you think Will will be five years after the end of the book?
1. Research the epidemic of gun violence in America, specifically looking at gang-related gun violence (note: the Chicago Tribune has excellent special reporting on gun violence in Chicago). Try to identify some of the root causes of the epidemic. What could be done to solve this problem?
2. Long Way Down explores the perpetuation of a cycle of violence and the theme of revenge. Compare the development of these themes in Reynolds’s novel to a classic revenge story like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Iliad, or The Count of Monte Cristo.
3. Will is fifteen years old and facing the challenge of making adult decisions that may have lasting consequences. Compare Will’s conflict in Long Way Down to the conflict of the speaker in William Stafford’s poem “Fifteen”. Think about a time when you were faced with a moral dilemma. What choice did you make? Write a narrative poem or narrative essay about your own experience.
4. Because poems often include meter and sound devices (such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition, assonance, and rhyme—including internal and slant rhyme), we often talk about the musicality of poems. Try adding a musical element to the novel or a section of the novel. You may choose to create a soundtrack for the text using existing music, or you may want to create your own beats to accompany a moment or moments in the text.
5. Look at some examples of crime reporting; then, using as many specific details from the text as you can, write a newspaper article about Shawn’s murder.
6. Will notes that his brother idolized the rappers Tupac and Biggie. While rap music is sometimes criticized for being misogynistic and/or glorifying violence, drug use, and gang culture, rap music has also brought to light issues of social justice and been a catalyst for reflection, awareness, and change. Choose a hip-hop or rap artist to research and profile. How do their personal experiences inform their music? What message do you think they are trying to convey? Choose one of their songs and analyze it the way you would analyze a poem.
7. At the beginning of the novel, Will reflects that the story he is about tell will either make readers want to be his friend or not want to be his friend at all. After you finish the book, write Will a letter telling him which one is true for you and explaining why.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy in Florida.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Powerful Amazing Honest Terrifying Loud Trapped
Needs to be shared. Needs to be given thought.
So far this year I've rated two new-to-me books 5 stars and both have been in verse, which is surprising because I don't usually read books in verse, but this was such a fantastic book. I listened to it on audio as well which only made it feel so much more impactful. It is so easy to gloss over words when you're reading them at a fast speed, but having the story read to you the way the author intended it to be read (because the audio is narrated by the author himself) was especially impactful. The book is about a young man, Will, whose brother has been shot. Will intends to take his brother's gun and shoot the person he believes killed his brother. The entirety of this book takes place within sixty seconds as Will rides an elevator down to the lobby of his building. The entire premise is a unique way to discuss such a hard topic and show the reader how much a person can go through in such a short length of time. This is a fairly quick read. The audiobook was only about an hour and a half and it included a short discussion with the author which also said a lot about why he wrote this book. I strongly recommend this book. This is a book that deserves the awards it has been given and it is certainly one that will stay in my memory for a while. This is the first book I have read by Jason Reynolds, but I will definitely pick up more books written by him in the future.
At first glance, I didn’t expect this book to be anything special. The synopsis didn’t make me feel ecstatic to read the book at all, mainly because it only skimmed the surface of this enormously insightful book. Flipping through a few pages, I immediately notice the poem-like writing that the book is comprised of, having only around 10,000 words and 306 pages. This book is an easy read. I burned through the entire story in a few hours in one afternoon. Though quick and easy, this book offers many complicated concepts of revenge and the reality of taking a life. William Holloman is a troubled fifteen year old that is conflicted on whether to end or spare the life of his brother’s killer, Carlson Riggs. Every person that has been around the town where Will lives, usually hear about the rules. There are three rules: no crying, no snitching, and always get revenge. Battling between his moralities and the rules, Will makes a decision on an elevator ride down from his apartment where he briefly reunites spiritually with his dead friends and family in his head, all of whom died by following the rules. As each person files out of the elevator as spirits created by his mind, Shawn, William’s older brother who recently died, says to Will, “You coming?” (306). If Will follows his vendetta and gets revenge for Shawn, he will fall victim to the rules just like his friends and family that walked out the elevator. Reynolds never gives us a clear written answer to whether or not Will followed through, but I believe he did it purposefully. From all the stories Will’s family tells us, they highlight their mistakes and show Will the reason for their death. Each story from the characters in the elevator seem to gradually build off of each other persuading Will to choose a wiser path, unlike his brother. Furthermore, Reynolds sheds some light into certain paths that Shawn and his closest friends all fell into. He shows us the street gang, the Dark Suns, dominating the blocks and terrorizing people that cross their path. Violence, drugs, criminal activity plagues the area they control, making it a nightmare to anyone living there. Shawn had to give his life walking to the corner store in the Dark Suns’ turf just to buy medical soap for his mother’s eczema. Reynolds portrays to us the reality of a low income community, fueling the growing wildfire for even more children and young adults being dragged into the gang life just as Shawn’s friend Riggs did. Honestly, who can blame them. Many of the individuals that follow that path like Riggs were in a tight spot, a bad place. The Dark Suns offer people a place to fit in, a temporary home. People who have experienced countless accidents and disasters are tired of the same routine—to wake up and live in fear, poverty, and pain. Some of Will’s friends surrendered to the seduction of gang life and began the vicious cycle of hate. Initiation to the gang, Dark Suns, could possibly mean killing someone. The rules, rooted in their society, acting as a code of conduct, hid people’s true motives. The characters in the book were in torment, thinking they need revenge to mend their problems. But revenge can’t be therapy for bloodlust. It was too late for them, but it’s not too late for Will to realize the true path to maturity.
Will needs to follow the rules when his brother was shot. So far he followed the first two, and now he needs to the the last one. And that is to kill his brother's murderer. The only thing that he needs to do next is to take the elevator. When I read in the description that this book only spans one minute, I thought that was weird. But here it was, it was possible! This book though was so full of content even with just limited space and words. I read this as an audio book and this one included an interview of the author (Also, the narrator was the author) and it covered why he wrote the book, why it was written in verse, why the story lasted only a minute, and he made me understand why. This book is so simple, yet I never thought of what it would really be. It was amazing and the story was just captivating. Without spoiling the book, the last line was like this ringing in your ear sensation that you feel afterwards after a blow. It's just wow!
Its very thought provoking....especially for some from the what we call the hood.....I bought this book for my 10 year old and after reading it as an adult, I can really relate to this story......dope 5 stars
From the language to the format and the writing style, it's perfect!
Maybe I am not the proper clientele for this book. I am not a Young Adult but I do work with them. I heard so much buzz about this book and it has won major awards, so I wanted to pick it up. I enjoy the style of prose fiction (I'm an Ellen Hopkins fan) and I like that it was told over a period of 1 minute. However, the setup of the words on the page didn't really do much to the story for me. The story itself was heartbreaking, but it didn't blow me away. I can see how the intended audience would like this but for me, I was underwhelmed.
I never go for books writen in verses. I've never been one for poetry but I had been looking at this one for awhile. I finally broke and just bought it. I was floored from beginning to end. Especially the end. So much truth in this story, so much hurt, but I would happily ride this elevator with Will again someday. And I hope others will ride it too.
Wonderfully well written and powerfully told.
ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!! Reading this on the heels of Miles Morales, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Jason Reynolds' knack for spinning intricate urban tales with DEEP messages may be unparalleled. Unlike the conventional prose of Miles Morales, this story is told in verse. Though there are far less words, the story told is just as deep and the wordplay that is commonplace in this style of writing is PHENOMENAL
Breathtaking, heart-wrenching, powerful, beautiful, compelling, real.
I enjoy reading novels written in prose. I feel that the novels take on a deeper, more emotional quality to them. I loved the way that the author spaced out his words, how he placed his punctuation, and how he grouped his text. Whether one page held ten words or thirty, the intensity and the significance of those words was the same, each word had value. From the beginning pages, I was captivated by the story of Will and his brother Shawn. After the shots rang out, Shawn was dead. Reading the text, I could see Shawn’s girlfriend, bent over Shawn’s body, her earsplitting screams piercing the air. Will cannot comprehend the scene that is before him, that is his brother lying on the ground, a stain spreading around his limp body. His mother becomes numb when the news reaches her ears, this was not supposed to happen. The world has come to a stop. Will knows immediately what he must do, what you had to do when you come face-to-face with this type of situation, Will has to follow the rules. The rules, how they came about is not important, what is important is that they are followed. As Will begins his retaliation, his ride down the elevator to the world outside becomes quite a long journey. A long eye-opening journey which allows Will to see the world for what it is, to see the consequences of decisions that have been made and to decide where the future is headed.
A must read not just for Young adults, but for grown ups as well! It's written so beautifully (all in verse) couldn't put it down!