Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (9781481438254)
Released October 24, 2017.
When Will’s older brother Shawn is murdered in front of him, Will knows what he has to do. He follows the rules that Shawn taught him. No crying. No snitching. Get revenge. So Will gets a gun out of Shawn’s dresser in the room that they used to share and heads out of the apartment. But on his ride down to the lobby in the elevator, Will finds himself on a unique experience. On the sixth floor, Buck enters the elevator. Buck, who gave Shawn the gun that Will has in his pants waist. Buck, who had been killed. As the elevator continues down floor by floor, other dead people enter. There is the girl that Will saw killed when he was a child. There are family members who were killed. All of them followed the rules. All of them have a message for Will. All share Will’s story, but how will his story end?
This book is quite simply a masterpiece. Written in verse that captures the guilt, sadness and fear of all of the losses and the violence on the streets, the book sings a mournful cadence that gets into your blood. It’s a book that you can’t stop thinking about. One that asks far more questions than it answers, asking both Will and the reader about what they would do. Nothing presented here is simple or clear. It is all muddled, confusing, filled with grief and loss, revenge and pain.
It takes a great author to craft a story in an elevator. Write it in verse that soars, then tighten the experience to one room, one long ride into the future and choices that have to be made. The verse is exceptional, the voice of Will and his ghosts are a clarion call to peace and breaking the rules. But can Will hear them in time?
Moving and deep, this verse novel is one of the best. Get this into the hands of teens, particularly reluctant readers who will discover they love poetry after all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)
Genie and Ernie are heading to Virginia to stay with their paternal grandparents for the very first time. Though they have met their grandmother before, this is the first time that Genie has met him. The difference between their lives in Brooklyn and their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia are huge. But that’s not the only thing that surprises Genie. He is shocked to find out that his grandfather is blind. Genie is a kid who is full of questions to ask all of the time and so he immediately asks his grandfather questions about his blindness. Genie knows that his older brother Ernie is braver than he is, always taking up fights for Genie and protecting him. He also knows that his grandfather is immensely brave too. When something goes wrong though, Genie will have to rethink what it means to be brave.
Reynolds is so amazingly gifted as a writer. He astounded me with this departure from his more urban writing. He captures the rural world with a beautiful clarity, using the natural world around as symbols for what is happening to the humans who live there. It is done both subtly and overtly, creating a book that is multi-layered and gorgeous to read. Throughout Reynolds speaks to real issues such as guns and disabilities. They are dealt in their complexity with no clear point of view stated, giving young readers a chance to think things through on their own.
Reynolds has created a fabulous protagonist in Genie, a boy filled with so many questions to ask that he has to write them down to keep track of them. He is smart, verbose and caring. Yet at the same time, he agonizes over mistakes, trying to fix them on his own and thus creating a lot of the tension of the book. The depiction of the grandparents is also beautifully done, allowing them to be far more than elderly figures. They are often raw, sometimes wise, and also dealing with life.
A brilliant read for the middle grades, this book is filled with magnificent writing and great diverse characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
Kyle can’t remember what happened in the moments before his best friend Jason died. He tries to write the scene many different ways in the styles of his favorite film directors, but nothing fills in that blank in his memory. Did he mean to kill his friend? What happened in those few seconds? And why can’t he remember?
Ayarbe’s first novel is a dark nest of tension, doubt and fear. Her ingenious use of film and novels as a language to psychology will make the book very accessible to teens who enjoy movies. Kyle is a fascinating protagonist who feels such guilt for what happened, no matter his own personal role in it. His family’s reaction as well as the reaction of Jason’s family is so well done and gut wrenching that it could be a novel of its own. Beautifully, taut writing with great characters. No one could wish for more.
I just have to mention the inclusion of a vivid school librarian who is a large part of Kyle’s recovery. What a joy to have the librarian be not only a character but an intriguing and strong one.
Highly recommended for teens who enjoy a good psychological mystery. Even better if they enjoy films too. Appropriate for ages 13-16.