Will and his best friend Tony did what they always do when they hear the sound of bullets. They “pressed ‘our” lips to the pavement.” When the coast is clear they got up and brushed off the dust and turned to find the one body still lying there. This time it’s Will’s brother, Shawn, lying in the blood. He’s dead.
Shawn had gone on an errand for his mother to get her the eczema cream she needed to stop the itching that made her scratch and scratch. On his way home somebody murdered him.
Will is beside himself with grief. This is the brother he loved so deeply, looked up to, the brother who taught him about becoming a man. This brother taught Will The Rules. You don’t cry. You don’t snitch. You get revenge.
Will knows there is a gun in middle drawer that was Shawn’s space. He takes the gun out, sticks it in the back waistband of his pants and heads out to even the score. He’s pretty sure he knows who killed Shawn and he’s going to take a life for a life.
A cannon. A strap. A piece. A biscuit. A burner. A heater. A chopper. A gat. A hammer A tool for RULE
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.