Long Way Down

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Long Way Down Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Gripping, unnerving story of teen boy contemplating revenge.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 12 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This book discusses the confusing, sad, and angry feelings that accompany grief. It also shows the main character's quirky coping mechanism: coming up with anagrams, such as "FEEL = FLEE" and "COOL = LOCO." Readers learn what these word puzzles are and find examples throughout the book.

Positive Messages

Even though the entire book is about loss due to violence, life lessons about the enduring love of family are woven throughout. There are also lessons about people's choices and their consequences. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even when they make bad decisions, Buck and Shawn try to fill the void of Will's missing parent. They show love and care even in death when they counsel Will about whether it's worth it to shoot the person suspected of killing his brother. 


The book is about gun violence, so readers see and hear the stories of people killed by guns -- both children and young adults. Blood is mentioned, as is how people looked as they died. A teen contemplates taking another's life with a gun. Two different men press guns to the back of people's heads. One pulls the trigger and kills a man. Another person admits to killing the wrong person. We see a gunshot hole revealed in a dead person.


Mild discussion of liking girls.


Infrequent strong language: one use each of "s--t," "damn," "f----rs," "a--hole," "corny-ass," punk-ass," "spooky-ass," "pissed off."


Brands aren't named specifically, but there's mention that one boy had the best sneakers, jewelry, etc., because he stole.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some alcohol use/abuse by adults. Adults and teens (who are ghosts) smoke cigarettes. Will's Uncle Mark sold drugs on the corner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jason ReynoldsLong Way Down won a 2018 Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Michael L. Printz Honor. It's a novel in free verse that tells the story of an African American teen boy at a crossroads. Determined to avenge his 19-year-old brother's death, Will, age 15, takes his brother's gun out of their shared bedroom to kill the person he's certain is the murderer, but it's a long way down in the elevator. Almost the whole novel takes place in the span of the 60-second ride from the seventh floor to the lobby, as Will's past and "The Rules" he's learned about being tough flash before him, aided by conversations with the ghosts of friends and relatives who were victims of gun violence. Multiple incidents of shootings, death, and grief are recalled and described. There's infrequent strong language (including one-time uses of "s--t" and "f----rs"), adult drinking, and smoking by teen and adult ghosts. Parents should be prepared to have conversations about grief, loss, gun violence, and sound decision-making.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byaprophet April 6, 2019

It’s more about you, than revenge

This is another amazing story by Jason Reynolds! This story is something that all kids need to read and understand. As an adult, I think the way that we view th... Continue reading
Adult Written bymommylynn12 October 12, 2018
Teen, 16 years old Written byreader9696 September 5, 2019

This book is simply impossible to put down

this is a great book for kids and everyone should read it. Long way down show exactly what every teen goes through, contimplation, and it shows that before you... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byHermioneGranger03 September 16, 2018

This Book Makes You Really Think- Jason Reynolds Truly is a Masterful Storyteller

A teacher recently recommended this book to me and some classmates, and now we are all crazy about it. This book made me feel something real, see beyond my own... Continue reading

What's the story?

In Long Way Down, Will has known about The Rules for a long time. No one he knows invented them, they've just always existed: No Crying, No Snitching, Get Revenge. When his big brother Shawn is killed, Will knows what he has to do -- he has to follow The Rules, right? The 60-second trip down the elevator from his apartment to the killer is among the longest of his life. When his past offers a different perspective on The Rules, Will has to make a tough decision: Will he go through with it?

Is it any good?

A stellar creepy, engaging, heartbreaking novel in verse, Long Way Down is another example of what author Jason Reynolds does best: Put voice to real-life issues teens face. The entire book takes place over 60 seconds of the main character's life, enough time for him to question everything he's been taught and change his life forever. Sixty seconds in this book is the difference between life and death, and readers are along for the ride from the first bing of the elevator button.

The emotions Will experiences are striking, and readers are gripped tight in the chest the entire time they're in the elevator with him. Like Will's elevator ride, the novel-in-verse's style is short and hard-hitting. Reynolds doesn't give readers a happily-ever-after ending, just the knowledge that there are choices people make every day that can put them in the hereafter before they can even blink.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about gun violence in Long Way Down. How is gun violence portrayed in movies and on TV? Have you seen guns portrayed as cool and fun? How do you think that affects kids?

  • Have you ever lost someone close to you? Did you have someone you could talk with about your feelings? 

  • Have you ever thought about doing something harmful to get revenge? Did something stop you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales and grief stories

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