Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds is at his most powerful in Long Way Down. In sparse, potent verse, Reynolds tells the story of Will and his plan to get revenge on the guy who shot and killed his brother, Shawn. Will knows the rules. Shawn’s the one who taught them to him: 1) No crying, 2) No snitching, 3) Get revenge (“If someone you love / gets killed, / find the person / who killed / them and / kill them.) I couldn’t help thinking of the 10 Duel Commandments from Hamilton . . . Once Will decides to kill Shawn’s murderer, (“but if the blood / inside you is on the inside / of someone else / you never want to / see it on the outside of / them”) he gets in the elevator to get downstairs and out to the streets that took his brother. It’s an elevator ride like no other. As it stops on each floor, a different shooting death victim (personally known to Will) steps into the elevator. Will these confrontations with his mortality change his mind about following the no-win path of revenge? Long Way Down is a poetic commentary on the vicious cycle of street violence in our gun-obsessed, poverty-ridden, racially-divided cities and it’s a timely and heartbreaking one.