What’s it about?
Yesterday Will’s brother Shawn has been shot dead in the street. Today, Will rides the elevator down with a gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans, ready to avenge his brother. On the long way down Will is visited by ghosts from the past.
There will probably be spoilers because the book is so short and I want to write a lot about it!
What I think about it
At first glance this book seemed like a thriller for adults but once I skimmed over the pages I saw it was written in free verse. Up until now I’ve always shied away from books written in open verse but I decided to give this one a shot. Had it been written in ‘regular’ text it wouldn’t have been more than a novella or a short story and while I would love to read it in full text, the verse form fit the story quite well.
There is no long preamble or introduction into the story. Written from Will’s perspective the story begins with Shawn’s death. On his way to the only shop that carries a special soap for the skin condition of his mother, Shawn is shot in the open street. Shawn knew the shop is located in a gang’s territory but he’d rather risk it than see his mother scratch her skin bloody.
Growing up in Will’s neighbourhood comes with three rules that everyone learns and respects.
No matter what.
No. 2: Snitching
No matter what.
No. 3: Revenge
No matter what.
Will has already followed the first two rules. He hasn’t cried in public, hasn’t talked when the police has asked questions about Shawn’s death. Had he seen anything? Does he know who did this? Yes, he knows who (probably, most likely) killed his brother. But it’s not up to the police to take care of the murderer. It’s up to Will and that’s why he is on this elevator on his way down to avenge his brother.
The elevator takes longer than usual and on his way down Will is joined by ghosts of the past. A childhood friend who never got to become a teenager, the best friend of his brother, his uncle and father, all of them killed by guns. They ask Will what he is going to do with that gun and Will clings to the third rule. The ghosts tell him the story of their deaths – how they followed the rules as well, feeding into the never-ending cycle of violence.
Will’s father confesses he has killed the wrong person and asks if Will is sure he knows who killed Shawn. Will is – mostly. The reader not only worries about Will but knows, if he kills the person he thinks responsible for Shawn’s death he will most likely be shot as well. Because someone will follow the third rule as well.
With just a few words Reynolds tells the story of a boy who has lost all of his protectors, all of the people he looks up to and can turn to for advice. He is left alone with his grief and doesn’t know what to do. And he is only 15 years old. Reynolds manages to convey so many emotions, talk about gun violence and give the reader a deep insight into the protagonist’s mind – and all with open verse. The book is intense, fast and doesn’t shy away from telling the truth. It’s also a clear message to finally stop gun violence. Such an important read!
What really hit me was the ending, though. After even the ghost of Shawn appeared Will is nervous, anxious, full of doubt. When they arrive in the lobby of the building Shawn turns around to Will and asks him if he’s coming. That’s the ending. The reader doesn’t know whether Will is going to kill his brother’s murderer and become part of the vicious cycle of violence or if it ends with him.
Reynolds picks up a topic that is still so important – especially in America where gun violence makes the news on an almost daily basis. I love the writing style, I love the open verse and am really impressed at how much Reynolds was able to convey in short bursts of text.
- Author: Jason Reynolds
- Pages: 336
- Publisher: Simon and Schuster
- Release Date: April 2019
- ISBN: 9781481438261