Bethany is a certified Special Education and Elementary teacher with 11 years experience teaching Special Education from grades PK through 5. She has a Bachelor's degree in Special Education, Elementary Education, and English from Gordon College and a Master’s degree in Special Education from Salem State University.
Long Way Down
Jason Reynolds' 2017 verse novel Long Way Down acknowledges the truth that ''if the blood inside you is on the inside of someone else, you never want to see it on the outside of them'' (Reynolds 5). Will's brother Shawn was killed, and Will feels bound to follow the Rules. No one knows where the Rules originated, but everyone follows them: No crying, no snitching, and take revenge when your loved one is killed. On his way to follow Rule Three, Will rides the elevator to the lobby of his apartment building. In the elevator, he is visited by six ghosts who lay out the bloody shape of the rule of revenge.
Cast of Characters
William Holloman, the first-person protagonist, opens his story by saying his name is ''. . . to my friends and people who know me know me, just Will. So, call me Will, because after I tell you what I'm about to tell you you'll either want to be my friend or not want to be my friend at all. Either way, you'll know me know me'' (Reynolds 2). Will is a 15-year-old dealing with the loss of his brother. He is deeply sad but feels bound to the rules. He is conflicted, and the novel unrolls the reasons behind his conflict as it chronicles his long elevator ride to seek revenge.
The Ghosts in the Elevator
- The first ghost to enter the elevator is Buck. In life, Buck was like an older brother to Shawn, someone Will had known most of his life. In death, Buck mocks Will and his revenge plan. ''Buck laughed, and laughter, when it's loud and heavy and aimed at you, I think can feel just as bad as a bullet's bang'' (Reynolds 100). Buck is rough with Will, taking the gun, which was Buck's before it was Shawn's (before Will took it). Then Buck lights a cigarette and leans against the back of the elevator to watch the rest of the ride down.
- Dani, the second ghost to enter the elevator, is an attractive young woman. Will opts not to flirt with her, since ''it's hard to think about kissing and killing at the same time'' (Reynolds 119). It takes Will a moment to recognize the ghost as his playground friend, Dani, who was killed by gunshots in front of him when they were eight years old. Dani asks two critical questions: ''What you need a gun for? . . . What if you miss?'' (Reynolds 139, 142).
- Will's Uncle Mark is next on the elevator. In life, Uncle Mark had a video camera, and his life's ambition was to make a movie. When he lost the camera. He did ''what a lot of people do around here. His plan: to sell for one day. One day'' (Reynolds 182-3). But he stayed on the street corner selling drugs until someone shot him to take his corner. On the elevator, Uncle Mark makes Will talk through his entire plan, and when Will tries to end the plan with the shot, Uncle Mark chuckles and tells him it will not be the end. He wants Will to think through the possible repercussions of his actions.
- At the next floor Will's Pop, Mikey Holloman, gets on the elevator. Will was three when he last saw his father. Mikey embraces Will, who says Pop ''welcomed me into a lifetime's worth of squeeze. Is it possible for a hug to peel back skin of time, the toughened and raw bits, the irritated and irritating dry spots, the parts that bleed?'' (Reynolds 198-9). This is what Mikey does for Will, unfolding details of his life story. When his brother Mark was shot, Mikey was devastated. He followed Rule Three and tried to get revenge - but he shot the wrong guy. Mikey seems determined that Will understand this point. Shortly after, Mikey was shot for his mistake.
- The next ghost is less familiar to Will, but Buck identifies him as Frick. Frick is the man who shot Buck in a gang initiation ritual that got out of hand. Frick reveals that he was murdered by Shawn as revenge for Buck's death.
- Shawn, Will's brother, is the last ghost in the elevator. Murdered two days before the story takes place, Shawn was probably murdered because he followed Rule Three. Will says, ''I won't pretend that Shawn was the kind of guy who was home by curfew. The kind of guy who called and checked in.... He wasn't. Not after eighteen, which was when our mother took her hands off him, pressed them together, and began to pray that he wouldn't go to jail that he wouldn't get Leticia pregnant that he wouldn't die'' (Reynolds 39). But despite his surly, unpredictable nature, Shawn was the one who inducted Will into teenage life, sharing trash talk and music and headlocks; and Will misses him deeply. Shawn's ghost speaks only two words to Will, the enigmatic question that closes the book, ''You coming?'' (Reynolds 306).
Long Way Down is a verse novel that follows William Holloway on an elevator ride on his way to take revenge for the death of his brother. Will is joined on the elevator by six ghosts: Buck, who mocks him; Dani, his childhood friend who is concerned about him and afraid he might miss; Uncle Mark, who died when someone shot him to take over his selling corner; his Pop, Mikey Holloman, who died because he tried to take revenge but shot the wrong guy; Frick, who killed Buck and was killed by Shawn; and Shawn, his dead brother, for whom he wants to take revenge.
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