Tournament of Books, Round Four: Allegedly vs Long Way Down

41Pkis9KXqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_In Allegedly, Mary is living in a group home just out from “baby jail.”  Through excerpts from court records and other materials, we learn she was convicted at age nine of killing a baby in her mother’s care. (Mary is black, and the baby was white, which factored into how she was portrayed by the press.) Mary goes about numbed to the world, her only bright spot spending time with her boyfriend Ted at the nursing home where they do community service. Then Mary gets pregnant, and her priorities shift from surviving the group home to finding a way to keep her baby by going to college. But is that a pipe dream for someone as notorious as she is? Will telling the truth of what happened be enough to save her child?

22552026Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a novel in verse. Even at 306 pages, it is a one-sitting read with carefully crafted narrative voices.

Shaun was shot and killed. According to the rules, Shaun’s 15-year-old brother Will can’t cry or snitch — instead, he must shoot the one responsible. He gets Shaun’s gun and presses the elevator button to leave his apartment building and go shoot the man he knows must be Shaun’s killer. But on the way down to the lobby, he is haunted by the ghosts of friends and family killed by guns. They show Will the short, violent path his life might take if he follows the rules as they did. Will he follow that path or choose a different life?

Two books about the consequences of murder enter the ring. Both books tug on the reader’s heartstrings with first person narrators who have lived through the trauma of losing a loved one and are trying to find a way forward.


And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

In Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson has created a powerful narrative voice, the group home setting is vivid, and the characters are distinct. Mary works hard toward her goals, and she’s strong enough to endure through the setbacks in a world that punishes her at every turn. I rooted for her as she struggled to find love of any kind in such a cruel world. But the ending undid much of my sympathy, and I felt manipulated by the unreliable narrator. (Trigger warning for graphic scenes of child abuse and other violence.)

Despite the spare, short-poem format of Long Way Down, Reynolds finds strong images to paint Will’s neighborhood, which has been torn apart by gun violence. “Blood soaking into a T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots/ looks a lot like chocolate syrup/when the glow from the streetlights hit it.” I worried for Will as he contemplated his choices and wondered if the cycle of violence would ever end. Despite the appearance of the ghosts, this story felt less manipulative than Allegedly.


Back to Round Four, Bracket One


Tournament of Books, Round Three: The Hate U Give vs. Long Way Down

When I read my email with my assigned titles for Tournament of the Books and saw that I had both The Hate U Give AND Long Way Down, I was ecstatic. These were two books that I was incredibly excited about and I felt complemented each other well. Then it hit me how hard it was going to be to pick just one of these to win. I had to forget everything I had heard about them and any preconceived notions I might have, and went to work.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fThe Hate U Give is such an important novel and made such an impact on the world of YA literature. This tells the story of Starr, who lives in Garden Heights A.K.A. the ghetto, but goes to a private school in wealthy, white neighborhood. This separates her from the kids that she has grown up with. At her private school she transforms herself into what she dubs “Williamson Starr”, where nothing she says or does could be construed as ghetto. In Garden Heights, she feels she can be herself, but doesn’t quite fit in since everyone from her neighborhood says she acts white because of where she goes to school. This brings her to a party where she tries to prove she fits in in Garden Heights, and the events of that night leave one of her childhood friends dead and Starr’s two worlds come crashing together.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

22552026Long Way Down is another hugely important novel that has taken the YA world by storm. This is the story of Will, who is looking to avenge the death of his brother, Shawn. Shawn was murdered in their neighborhood and Will feels he must follow The Rules that have been set down by generations before him. When he gets into the elevator that morning with his gun, ready to complete rule number three, some very unexpected guests get into the elevator with him. This story is told in verse and takes place over the course of a little over a minute, but is jam packed with stories that make Will think. During his ride down, Will must listen to these stories that are all connected to him and Shawn, and decide what is the right thing for him to do.

And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This book was all over stunning. The story had me thinking about it, and the ending, long after I finished. I was moved to tears. Telling the story in verse truly brings the story to life. The way the words were positioned on the page had you feeling much like Will felt. Sometimes it was jarring, sometimes it was scattered, sometimes it was quiet, but powerful. This is also a fantastic read for a reluctant reader. It has a high page count, but when they open it, it isn’t daunting. They are able to read such a powerful story and stay engaged, without being intimidated by its length. Jason Reynolds tells a story that needs to be heard and reaches out to those that aren’t seen. Please share this book!

Tegan Beese is the Young Adult Associate at Lake Villa District Library. She is currently finishing her MSLIS at University of Illinois and can’t wait to dive back into her giant to be read pile. You can find her on Instagram @therowdylibrarian or Twitter @teegsmae


Back to Round Three, Bracket Two

Onto Round Three, Bracket Four

Tournament of Books, Round One: Wintersong vs Long Way Down

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

24763621.jpgLiesl has always been the dutiful daughter.  She gives up her dreams of being a famous composer to support her little brother’s budding career as a violinist.  While her beautiful sister Käthe primps, plain Liesl works tirelessly to keep her parents’ inn running despite her father’s alcoholism.  She has all but given up on half-remembered childhood fancies of playing music with the Goblin King.  But after Käthe is abducted by goblins, to save her sister and the world Liesl agrees to marry the Goblin King and never leave his realm, the Underground, as she fades and then dies.

Drawing on fairy tales and Romanticism, Wintersong is a sensuous and dramatic story of love, lust, and self-discovery.  Jae-Jones’ rich language and dreamy imagery set a dark and amorous tone. While the first half of the book reads as a romantic adventure, the second half gives itself over entirely to romance and internal angst.  Liesl contends with a tangle of conflicted emotions and questions about who she is and who she could be.  Magic, mystery, and multiple steamy sex scenes add intrigue, but a meandering and sometimes confusing plot may frustrate some readers.

There is certainly an audience for a book like Wintersong, and it is a strong example of its genre and style.  It’s a particular taste, though, and its meandering pace and high emotion don’t do much to invite readers outside this niche.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds  

22552026After his brother Shawn is murdered, Will knows The Rules: No crying.  No snitching.  Revenge.  So he takes his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator of his building at the 7th floor to go kill the man who he is convinced killed his brother.  On each floor, a new person gets on the elevator: each one a ghost from his past, killed by gang violence.  In tense and nimble verse, Reynolds recounts their stories, and Will’s struggle with whether to stick to The Rules, or take a different path that might end the cycle of violence.

This is a book that sucked me in so deeply, coming out of it was like waking from a dream.  But Long Way Down is, in truth, far too real.  In affecting verse, the book shines a light on the plight of young people caught up in gang violence.  It is both empathetic and challenging.  Beneath Will’s protestations that he is doing what he has to do is the ever-present whisper, “But do you have to, really?”  As Reynolds skillfully illustrates, this is a deceptively simple question with no easy answer.

The book’s length and relevance make it accessible to a wide swath of readers, particularly black urban youth who have been underrepresented in YA literature.  The ending packs a punch that will leave you breathless.

And the winner is…


Winner: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down is possibly my favorite book of the year.  It grabbed me and, months after I first read it, has yet to let go, still popping into my head at random moments.  It is impossible to encounter someone else who has read this book and resist launching into a fervent discussion of its ending. It is a brutally honest and thought-provoking look at a timely subject that should be immensely valuable to readers who are in situations like Will’s, and eye-opening to readers who aren’t.

I would certainly recommend Wintersong to the right reader, but I would see many finding it boring or overdramatic.  I also have a few concerns about how closely it links self-discovery to a relationship, particularly one with major power imbalances and a conflicted sex life.

Wintersong and Long Way Down both feature skilled, imaginative writing.  But while escapist stories have an important place in literature, it is hard to compare one with something so gut-wrenching, timely, and life-or-death urgent as Long Way Down.  Jason Reynolds continues to astound with the quality and volume of hard-hitting books he gifts to young readers.


Back to Round One, Bracket Nine

Onto Round One, Bracket Eleven