If you’ve never read a novel in free verse poetry, this is a fine one to start with. I’ve only read one or two, but this one works so powerfully that it’s hard to imagine the story written any other way. It tells the story of Will, a 15-year-old determined to avenge his older brother’s recent death. He grabs his brother’s gun (one Will has never touched) and heads out to find the person he’s certain is responsible, but once in his building’s elevator, it’s a long way down. The rest of the story takes place in the elevator–all of 60 seconds–where Will meets the ghosts of friends and relatives, all victims of gun violence. They all have something for him to think about.
While Long Way Down is technically a young adult book, I’d recommend it to all readers–early high school through adult. I read it in 2 or 3 hours in a few separate chunks, but all in one day, which was a great way to become totally immersed in its emotional pull. I’ve since gone back and reread much of it, focusing on its poetic structure. My aha moment was this: virtually every writing skill I teach in a poetry unit is illustrated in this book. Yep, pretty much every mini lesson is in there–so now my book is full of sticky notes: concrete imagery, powerful figurative language, strong verbs, interesting line and stanza breaks, enjambment, bleeding titles, element of surprise, dialogue, internal monologue, well-developed conflict and characters, use of white space on the page.
This book is disturbing, heartbreaking, real.