Jason Reynolds Q&A: 'The Long Way Down graphic novel heightens the emotional stakes'

Published on: 13 December 2020

We speak to Jason Reynolds about the graphic novel adaptation of his book Long Way Down and how it could help children get into reading...

Jason Reynolds and the front cover of the Long Way Down graphic novel

Photo: James J Reddington

Jason Reynolds' fantastic verse novel Long Way Downabout a teenager contemplating revenge after his older brother is shot dead - has been turned into a graphic novel, featuring haunting art from Danica Novgorodoff.

We spoke to Jason about what he thinks the graphic novel format adds to the story, how we can help children fall in love with books and what he hopes young readers will take from Long Way Down...

Do you have a favourite spread or perhaps a few scenes from the graphic novel that are your favourite?
Honestly, it's probably one of the simplest spreads in the book. It's the one that simply says, 'It used to be different', and it has Shawn and Will just looking at each other. There's something about this image that's so striking to me. So... human, void of all the noise. And I think that's what I love about it.

The 'it used to be different' spread from Long Way Down

How does the graphic novel change Will's story for the reader?
I don't know if it changes the story. But if it does, it heightens the emotional stakes. It turns this into an immersive experience.

What do you love most about graphic novels? Do you have any favourites?
I mean, what's NOT to love? I don't think there are any two art forms besides, maybe, song and dance, that work together as well as image and word. They're meant to be together. I can't pick a favourite, but I can tell you the one that completely changed the way I looked at storytelling. That's Maus, by Art Spiegelman. It changed me.

A spread from the Long Way Down graphic novel

Sometimes graphic novels or comics, or more illustrated books, can hook in a reader who wasn't that interested in traditional novels before. Have you found that in your work in schools?
Absolutely. Kids today live in a multi-faceted HYPER-stimulated world. It makes sense that a variety of stimuli in storytelling works.

What do you talk about to kids in terms of books and reading when you visit schools?
When I show up at a school, the one thing I never do is talk about books. I always tell them to ask me anything - every question is on the table. I came to connect with them, so we talk about sneakers, tattoos, video games.

These are the spaces where young people can talk to me as a person. They find out that I'm a real human being, that I believe in them and as a result, they're willing to invest in me and the books that I've written.

Photos of Jason Reynolds © Dayo Kosoko

Photos: Dayo Kosoko

What do you hope that a young person reading Long Way Down will take away with them after reading?
I hope young readers think deeply about the importance of decision making, and how often we make decisions that impact our lives in big or small ways.

I also want us all to think about the idea of being haunted. When we say 'haunted', we always think of ghosts, anything that's ephemeral or abstract, but the truth is that all of us are haunted by something. Whether it be your parents' teachings, your education, the bad or good things that have happened to you, we're all being haunted.

Everything sticks to us in some way or another, so we have to make choices about what we can peel off and what we allow to stay with us.

Read our review of the Long Way Down graphic novel

Watch Jason Reynolds reading an extract from Long Way Down:


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