Long Way Down is a young adult book by Jason Reynolds. It is the story of Will, a 15-year-old who lives with his mother. His older brother Shawn has just been shot and while his mother is wailing, he is not; he is following the rules passed down from father to son, son to brother.
The rules are clear: no crying, no snitching, and revenge. Will is about to take care of rule 3. He’s never shot a gun before, but he gets Shawn’s gun from the drawer, tucks it into his waistband, and heads out to kill Riggs, who he is convinced was the one who killed his brother.
As Will takes the elevator down 7 floors, a dead person enters on each floor, someone connected to him.
The book explores themes of grief, gun violence, and gang culture.
The first person to get on the elevator is his brother Buck, the one who gave Shawn the gun that Will now carries. Then comes Dani, a girl who died from a stray bullet even though Will tried to cover her. Then come his uncle, Mark, his father, and Mark’s killer, Frick. The last one to get on, on the second floor, is Shawn.
Everyone but Shawn has questions for Will, about what if he misses and how he knows Riggs is the guy. They all puff on their cigarettes, creating a dense cloud while they talk to each other and to him. They are challenging what he knows and what he thinks he knows about life, his family’s history, and the rules.
Will learns that the missing bullet in the clip was used by Shawn to kill Frick. Was Shawn killed for killing Frick or because of a turf war?
When Shawn gets in the elevator, he greets the others but doesn’t utter a word to Will. However, in death, he’s breaking one rule as tears run down his face. Will feels like crying too but won’t succumb even though one tear escapes free. He thinks that just one doesn’t count.
Finally, on the first floor, everyone streams out of the elevator ahead of Will. Shawn looks back at Will and utters the last words, “You coming?”.
The whole way down, we see Will realizing that he knows less than he thinks.
Do you think he gets out of the elevator? What’s the significance of the cigarette smoke, which all the men are smoking except Shawn?
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