Review of Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel
by Jason Reynolds; adapted and illus. by Danica Novgorodoff
High School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    208 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-53444-495-9    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-4497-3    $8.99

Skillful editing and rearranging of Reynolds’s original verse novel (Long Way Down, rev. 7/17) creates room for Novgorodoff’s impressionistic ink and watercolor illustrations to flourish, resulting in an adaptation that feels authentic to its new comics format. Fifteen-year-old Will’s older brother, Shawn, is murdered. According to “The Rules,” Will must not cry or snitch, but must seek revenge. Soon after the murder, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun and a resolve to kill. As Will descends in the building’s elevator, he is inexplicably confronted by a deceased victim of gun violence at each floor, from old friends to the father he can barely remember. Each encounter further shakes Will’s confidence in “The Rules” and in his deadly plans, leading to an open-ended conclusion. Novgorodoff’s cartooning is never static; at times she opts for clearly defined panels and figures, and at others she forgoes panels entirely and leaves characters abstracted or incomplete. These artful decisions offer readers insight into Will’s emotional state at any given moment. The layered, fragmented layouts found across many spreads have potent impact, along with stylistic touches such as Polaroid photos, video screens, and storyboards seamlessly substituted for panels. Scenes of violence are starkly portrayed, including a double-page image of Shawn’s dead body; however, the complex and unjust reality of Will’s position remains front and center, in sharp focus.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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