Friday, 30 November 2018

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Chris Priestley - review by Dawn Finch

First the blurb...

hid, tucked
themselves tight.

Pressed our lips to the
pavement and prayed
the boom, followed by 
the buzz of a bullet,
didn't meet us.

After Will's brother is shot in a gang crime, he knows the next steps. Don't cry. Don't snitch. Get revenge. So he gets in the lift with Shawn's gun, determined to follow The Rules. Only when the lift door opens, Buck walks in, Will's friend who died years ago. And Dani, who was shot years before that. As more people from his past arrive, Will has to ask himself if he really knows what he's doing.

I read a lot of books - hundreds of them every year, but it's not often that a book leaves me speechless. I read Long Way Down shortly after it was published in January, and it has taken me this long to review it because it was hard to find the words. In that time I've been sharing it with everyone I meet and telling them that if they only buy one book this year, it should be this one.

There have been a few verse books hit the shelves over the last few years, and some of them have been excellent, some have not. It is not only a difficult format to master, but it is also incredibly difficult to sell and to get young readers to take a chance on. So many readers feel that poetry is not for them, and feel excluded by the format. Long Way Down is the book to challenge that.

Reynolds' free and fluid verse is engaging and captures the reader from the opening lines. He writes with a living ease that feels real, and honest. This is the voice of youth, and anger, and it speaks directly to the reader. This is not the sound of pretentiousness or of fusty academia, this is the voice of fear, and hate, and sadness and grief. Will is real and in this verse we know him, and we understand him, and through this we understand the plight and situation of the young people who walk in his shoes.
Detail - art by Chris Priestley

The book is a powerful package with the verse supported by Chris Priestley's characteristically superb illustrations. Darkness oozes from scratchy images of Will's life. Frozen moments of memories, wisps of the past and the horrors of the present. Inky flashes of bullets, guns, body bags and fragments of the life of a boy who has been swept away into this terrible world.

This is not only a great book and a great read, it is also one of those very rare things - it is an important book.

Long Way Down is written by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Chris Priestley
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN - 978 0571335121

Reviewed by Dawn Finch, author and librarian.



Ann Turnbull said...

I must get this book. Thanks, Dawn.

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