Book review, Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds Recommended for grades 7-9/up Lexile 720-750 Published Oct. 24, 2017, 304 pages Please note: this book is already in the Pageturner library but requires a request be submitted by a student of any other class in order for additional purchase(s) to be made.

Written in verse by award-winning children's book author Jason Reynolds, this novel tilts more toward 7th grade and older because of its subject matter.  In the opening scene, Will's brother Shawn has been gunned down in a rival gang's territory after buying their mom's special eczema soap from the only store that sells it. Will has known the 3 Rules all his life: never cry, never snitch, and get revenge.  Will thinks he knows who did it--no, he's sure, it had to have been Riggs, the other gang’s leader. He takes his brother's gun from a drawer (which Shawn had rigged to be difficult to open, hoping to protect his little brother) and heads down the elevator from their upper level apartment:
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE”   
As soon as he enters and presses for the lobby, a 60-second countdown begins. Willy-nilly, the elevator will stop at each of six floors on the way down. At each floor, a visitor steps in; the first is his brother’s mentor Buck, an OG, or old school gangster (from “original gangster”). Buck is clever and slick, holding back in delivering crucial information Will needs.  He tells Will he gave the gun to Shawn.  He asks, have you even checked to see if it’s loaded? Of course he hadn’t. Will’s first uncomfortable surprise is that a bullet is missing, which means that Shawn has fired this gun. Did he shoot first? HUH. Will begins to sweat, the gun chafes. Buck, of course, is recently dead.
Reynolds chose Will’s name carefully.  Think of all its meanings! It might be a legal document for distribution of a deceased's estate (what did Shawn have? Not much), an expression of future tense (I will kill),  of inevitable events (s--t will happen), expression of a request (will you do it?), expression of ability or capacity (does he have the will to kill?), of habitual behavior (he will always be a gangster), or of probability of something in the present, about the future (he will end up in prison, or dead). Reynolds intends all these meanings just in our protagonist’s name.  Makes you think.  Poetry does that.  
At the next floor, Will greets a girl he doesn’t recognize at first.  She appears to be 15, but she died in his arms when she was eight, his very first crush, victim of a random playground shooting.  She keeps asking him why he has the gun. It’s completely out of character, WHY?
Their uncle Mark enters next. He’d wanted to be a filmmaker; instead he got involved with selling drugs to buy a camera--and then it turned into a fulltime gig that took his life by violence. He asks Will to describe, as though it was a movie, what he will do according to the three rules. Will breaks down, unable to see himself committing murder Then Will’s dad enters. He’s been absent a long time but embraces his son before holding the gun to Will’s head, forcing him to feel the bite of cold metal and know what it’s like to be so close to death.  Then he tells Will he, too, sought revenge, after HIS brother Mark’s murder. He killed the wrong person, an innocent passerby, and was in turn shot himself by someone abiding by the three rules. 
Next, a guy named Frick enters.  He’d been assigned to rob Buck to get jumped into a gang called Dark Sun (nothing to do with Shawn OR Rigg’s’ gangs) but ended up killing him, instead.  He reveals that Shawn then killed him--so THAT’s where the missing bullet went! Finally, Shawn himself enters. For some time, he doesn’t speak at all. Then he breaks the first of the 3 rules and bursts into tears, enveloping Will in a hug that speaks volumes.  What Will do?  
Mr. Reynolds writes from personal experience: at 19, one of his friends was murdered and he, too, expected to exact revenge.  But he realized the school-to-prison pipeline was not for him, and he refused to kill another human being.  Now he has a rewarding career, supports those who are in prison, and has appeared on numerous occasions to argue against book-banning.
In similar style to Long Way Down, Reynolds has also written a story for middle graders, titled Look Both Ways.  It, too, is composed in verse, and tells one story for each of ten blocks a group of kids have to walk after school to home:
This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy—
Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.”
Look Both Ways is also a New York Times best seller, National Book Award for Young People's Literature finalist (2019), Coretta Scott King Award honor book (2020), and Carnegie Medal recipient (2021). It’s recommended for ages 10-14, or grades 4.8 and above, with a Lexile of 750.
Jason Reynold’s books have won numerous awards.  In 2017-2018, Long Way Down won: 
A Newbery Honor Book, A Coretta Scott King Honor Book, A Printz Honor Book, A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021), A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner for Young Adult Literature,
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award, An Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Fiction
Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner, An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017, A Vulture Best YA Book of 2017, and A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2017--and was a 2017 Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Poetry.  
Mr. Reynolds is also a prolific writer! You can find all of his works, listed in chronological sequence, here: