BookKids: Shannon Reads Without Walls

This month, the BookKids team takes on the Reading Without Walls challenge! Below, School Events Coordinator, Shannon, writes about her experience reading outside her comfort zone. For more posts in this series, click here. 

It’s always hard for me to decide what books to write about for the Reading Without Walls Challenge, because I only read teen and middle grade lit. So, with the exception of reading adult fiction (which I also did for the challenge this year), it always feels like cheating no matter what I pick. And to really feel like cheating, this year I chose a Jason Reynolds book. I know what you’re thinking — “But Shannon, you love Jason Reynolds, how is that different from what you do every day?” And you’re not wrong. If you’ve seen any of the Teen Lit live steams or Teen Thursday posts, you know Jason is one of my absolute faves.

But there’s a reason why I love him. It’s because he takes something that not everyone can relate to and makes them feel it in the deepest parts of their soul. He gets to the heart of the matter, and strips it down to that rawest of emotions and says to the reader, “Hey, you, this could be you. This could be all of us. This is the human experience.” And isn’t that what writing and reading is all about?

So, maybe this doesn’t satisfy the different format part of the challenge (did I mention I read an adult book? That’s got to count for something), but my choice is definitely about something I have never experienced and truly know little about.

long way down

LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds is the story of a boy, Will, whose brother was shot and killed. In their community, when this happens there are three rules:

  1. Crying – Don’t. No matter what. 
  2. Snitching – Don’t. No watter what. 
  3. Revenge – Do. No matter what.

That’s what leads Will to his brother’s drawer to find a gun. It’s what has him in the elevator, decision firmly made. It’s what sets him on the path that we must follow.

Visited by the ghosts of each person he personally knows that was affected by the cycle, Will’s elevator ride is one long way down. As they recount the way it felt, the way this never-ending hurt continues, we see not only Will’s struggle, but a side of our reality that we may never have looked directly into.

We’ve all seen the news stories, we’ve seen the movie portrayals of moments like these, we’ve had a personal or political opinion on the matter. You may have even lived in neighborhoods privvy to gang violence and crime, like I did growing up. But even if you feel like you’ve been surrounded by it, how many of us have had to decide between picking up or walking away from the gun? How many of us had to choose revenge or a chance to break the cycle? How many of us have been forced to say our goodbyes on the streets, or a playground, or a basketball court because of what the news calls “senseless violence.”

The torment Will faces in the elevator as he wars with his decision lasts only one minute. One minute of the rules, the pain, the need to do something, the need for that something to be anything but what he feels he has to do. But that one minute will change his life. That one minute will also completely alter yours.

Chances are when you read this book three things will happen.

  1. Crying. You’re going to do it.
  2. Snitching. You’re going to tell everyone you know about what you read.

But the difference is…

3.  You probably won’t have to decide between avenging your brother or not when you put the book down. You most likely won’t have to worry that when you walk outside you’ll be next.

But you will understand that feeling a little bit more. You’ll share in Will’s heartache. You’ll feel his controlled, raw emotion. His need to act. His hesitation to do so. When you step out of the elevator at the end of the book, you’ll find yourself making a choice. A choice to stand. A choice to act. A choice to be forever changed by the rhythmic words of Jason’s verse that flow from page to page, leading you further and further down into the heart of the experience and emotion. And you’ll realize it may have been a long way down, but from there it’s just one step at a time to make your way back up. One step to break the cycle. One step to make a change.



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