Jason Reynolds’ novel Long Way Down starts with the three rules of a troubled neighborhood: no crying, no snitching, and always get revenge. After somebody shoots Will’s brother, Shawn, Will, 15, follows the third and most important rule. He sets off to kill the man who shot his brother because he knows who did it. Or does he?
After taking a gun out of Shawn's dresser and tiptoeing out the door onto the building elevator, Will comes face to face with Buck, the person who had given Shawn the gun, now in Will’s waistband. Will checks to see if the gun is loaded and discovers 15 of 16 bullets in its barrel. Of course, Will thinks, Shawn is the only person who could have shot his own gun.
After what seems like forever, the elevator stops on the sixth floor where a teenage girl named Dani steps on. When Dani and Will were eight, someone shot and killed her. Now here she is in front of him looking very much alive. When she was killed, Will did not know “the rules,” he says, or else he would have found Dani’s killer. But, he did not know, and now here they are, talking in an elevator full of cigarette smoke as Will loses his mind, or at least this is what he thinks. Dani wasn't the target of the bullet that ended her life, so what she wants to know now is this: what if Will misses? The reader can infer that this gets Will thinking in a more logical way rather than thinking based on pure rage. This change in Will’s thought process is vital for the plot development.
On the next floor down, Will, Dani, and Buck meet Uncle Mark. Uncle Mark is the brother of Will’s father who, like Dani, had also been killed according to “the rules.” Uncle Mark’s role on the elevator is to play out the story of events following the longest elevator ride in history. When Uncle Mark asks, “What comes next?” Will answers, “The end." However, Uncle Mark points out, this is not true. There will never be an end. Someone is always trying to follow “the rules.”
When the elevator finally reaches the fourth floor, Will’s dad steps on and is cheerfully greeted by his family. Sadly, this does not last long as Will’s dad begins to tell the story of his own death. You see, Will’s dad died trying to follow “the rules.” He got revenge on the man he thought killed his brother, Uncle Mark, but he was mistaken. He shot the wrong man and was killed in return. Is that the risk Will is willing to take?
As the book continues, more people connected to Shawn's murder join the group in the elevator. Each person is a puzzle piece to the big picture that has yet to reveal itself. Long Way Down is a fantastic book. The way it is written in verse is refreshing because it does not follow the writing patterns that are typically seen in books. This book speaks to a teenage or young adult audience because it touches on hard-to-hear realities such as violence and drugs that do occur in the lives of some teenagers.