Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Summary & Ending

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

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 by Jason Reynolds is a verse novel and a ghost story. This lesson will explore the novel's plot and ending as the main character tries to follow the Rules on his quest for revenge. Updated: 01/18/2021

Long Way Down

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds, revolves around the main character Will, his family's history of vengeance, and Will's attempt to follow the rules on his quest for revenge.

What is the longest journey you've ever taken? For William Holloman (''Will'' to his friends) his long journey is one of revenge. Living in his neighborhood, Will feels bound by three rules:

  1. Do not cry
  2. Do not snitch
  3. Take revenge when a loved one is killed

Let's take a closer look at the plot.

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  • 0:04 ''Long Way Down''
  • 0:37 The Preliminary Events
  • 1:22 The Elevator Ride
  • 4:37 The Ending
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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The Preliminary Events

The day before yesterday Will and his friend Tony were outside talking when they heard shots. They ducked and hid, like they were trained to do, and when things quieted, they looked up to count the bodies. There was one body: Will's brother, Shawn, murdered on his way home from buying his mom's special eczema cream.

Will is convinced that Shawn was murdered by Riggs, a former friend who recently moved and joined the Dark Suns, a gang that operates in the same neighborhood as the store that sells Will's mother's eczema cream. As Will listens to his mother's sobs at home, he opens the middle drawer of Shawn's dresser, previously forbidden territory, and finds a gun. He resolves to follow rule number three and kill Riggs for killing Shawn.

The Elevator Ride

Will steps into the elevator outside his apartment on the eighth floor. When someone else joins him, the elevator ride begins to get strange. The man is Buck, a man who used to be like a big brother to Shawn, the man who gave Shawn the gun Will now carries, and a man Will knows to be dead. Buck asks Will his plans, checks to see if the gun is loaded, and tells Will regarding his revenge plan, ''You don't got it in you.'' Buck lights up a cigarette and leans against the back wall of the elevator.

At the next floor, a young woman enters the elevator, glances at Buck, and comments on the cigarette smoke. Will is surprised she can see Buck's ghost, but she brushes it off and asks about his gun. She pulls out a photograph and Will realizes she is Dani, his childhood friend whom he saw killed on the playground when they were eight years old. After Dani's death, Will cried and cried, and Shawn taught Will the rules. Dani questions Will's plan, seemingly very worried. ''What if you miss?''

The elevator door opens again, and large hands grab Will by the shirt then put him in a headlock. ''Nephew, after all this time you ain't learned to fight back yet?'' taunts the man. It's Will's Uncle Mark, who was killed when another drug dealer wanted his corner to sell drugs. Uncle Mark tries to walk Will through his plan step-by-step and Will finds he can't get past the part where he pulls out the gun. When he finally chokes out that after pulling out the gun, he shoots, Uncle Mark asks what happens next. ''Nothing. That's it. The end,'' Will says. Uncle Mark says, ''It's never the end. Never.''

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