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Book Review | Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, artwork by Danica Novgorodoff

From the publisher: Jason Reynolds’s Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, and Coretta Scott King Honor–winning, #1 New York Times bestselling novel Long Way Down is now a gripping, galvanizing graphic novel, with haunting artwork by Danica Novgorodoff.

Long Way Down is a graphic novel adaptation of Jason Reynolds’s 2017 Young Adult novel of the same name. The original is a novel in verse, meaning it’s a single story told as a series of poems. This graphic novel adaptation keeps the poetic form intact, though it’s not just the original novel with pictures. While many of the original poems are interspersed with the art, this adaptation also has additional dialogue and scenes that set it apart from the original.

Main character Will sees his older brother Shawn shot and killed at the basketball court. Though he did not see who fired the gun, Will knows it must have been Riggs, a childhood friend of Shawn who fell in with a rival gang on the other side of town.

There’s one other thing that Will knows too: he has to follow The Rules:

  1.       Crying — Don’t. No matter what.
  1.       Snitching — Don’t. No matter what.
  1.       Revenge —If someone you love gets killed, find the person who killed them and kill them.

So Will finds his brother’s gun, steps into the elevator down to the ground floor, and then things get weird. At each floor the elevator stops for someone to get in. Except it’s people who can’t be there, people who died. Some of them Will knew, others he barely remembers. Each of them has something to say to him, whether it’s their own story about The Rules or questions about Will’s motives and ability to follow through. As each stop of the elevator brings him closer to Rule Number Three, Will’s companions in the elevator become closer and more personal.

Like any graphic novel, Long Way Down is only as good as its art. Thankfully, Novgorodoff’s artwork shines beautifully. She does a wonderful job capturing the wide range of emotions on each character’s face, from Shawn’s joking smile when greeting Will on the playground to the fear, fury, and despair Will goes through afterward. Richly detailed depictions of the neighborhood and characters give way to a sparse, empty style that really highlights the ghostly nature of Will’s visitors in the elevator.

Long Way Down reads as a kind of modern, streetwise version of A Christmas Carol, except instead of a miserly rich man Will is a young teen with a gun. In both its original and graphic forms, it’s a short, powerful story that will stick with the reader long after closing the cover.

Long Way Down is available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library. It is also available as an ebook.

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