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52 pages 1 hour read

Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down

Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | YA | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Long Way Down (2017) by Jason Reynolds is a young adult novel in free verse about Will Holloman, a young black boy struggling to make a decision after his brother Shawn is shot dead in the street. Will plans to seek revenge, but before he can leave the elevator of his building, he is greeted by a series of ghosts who confuse and complicate his perspective on Shawn’s death and the idea of revenge killing. Long Way Down became a New York Times best-seller and received several prestigious honors in young adult literature, including a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Honor, an Edgar Award, a Walter Dean Myers Book Award, and a Printz Honor.

Plot Summary

The book begins as Will Hollomon, a 15-year-old boy living in a poor neighborhood in an unnamed city, witnesses his brother Shawn’s death. Shawn is shot by someone in the Dark Suns gang while picking up special soap for his mother’s skin condition. Will sets the scene, describing his neighborhood, the relationship he and his neighbors have with the police, and the basics of The Rules: no crying, no snitching, revenge.

Instead of crying for his brother, Will finds Shawn’s gun in a dresser drawer and decides to kill Riggs—the Dark Sun gang member he believes killed Shawn. Will sneaks out past his sleeping mother the next morning and gets in the elevator to kill Riggs. But then a series of ghosts appear in the elevator, each with a connection to Will’s past.

The first visitor is Buck, Shawn’s street mentor. He tells Will he isn’t tough enough to kill Riggs. Buck is the person who gave Shawn the gun. Next, Dani enters. She was Will’s childhood crush; when Will was eight years old, he watched Dani die of a gunshot wound from a drive-by shooting on the playground. Dani asks an important question: “What if you / miss?” (142).

Next, Will’s Uncle Mark enters. He forces Will to consider the long-term consequences of his actions, and what it would look and feel like to kill another man. Then Will’s father enters and puts a gun to Will’s head, trying to show his son what it feels like to be the victim of a random murder.

Finally, Shawn enters the elevator. He won’t talk to Will, but he cries, breaking The Rules. Will is confused but loves his brother so deeply—it hurts to see his brother’s grief.

When the elevator stops, Shawn asks Will, “You coming?” (306). The novel ends on a cliffhanger, as Will debates whether to follow the rules, like all the ghosts before him, or to make another choice for himself.

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