Long Way Down
Written by Jason Reynolds
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.
Primary Source Pairing:
The verse format of the text, the scratchy grey background of the paper, and the inevitable travel of the elevator down from the seventh floor create a textual experience that is more than just reading. The expert writing of Jason Reynolds put us in the elevator with Will and the cast of characters who visited him. This book embodies a sense of immediacy for the reader that makes the book a hard one to put down.
For this primary source pairing, use a black and white photograph of an elevator shaft from the 1950s to open a discussion about the emotions the readers had while reading the book and the feelings the image evoke. Invite students to discuss how they felt while reading the book and how that impacted their experience with the book.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
- Find something small but interesting.
- What do you notice that you didn’t expect?
- What do you notice that you can’t explain?
- How does this image make you feel?
- How does analyzing this image connect to your reading experience of A Long Way Down?
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Elevator Shaft image: Library of Congress