Long Way Down

Long Way Down

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, narrated by the author

Published Oct 2017

I haven’t done a proper book review in awhile on here, but I really wanted to share this one because it was a book I probably would not have picked up on my own, if I hadn’t already been using it as part of a teen verse novel booklist already. It’s not a topic that jumps out at you to pick up. Will’s older brother Shawn is killed right in front of him. Will must follow The Rules (Don’t Cry or Snitch and Take revenge on whoever has hurt your family/friends) and exact his revenge on his brother’s killer. So he puts a gun in his waistband and takes the elevator down from the 8th floor down to the lobby. I liked that the author, in the notes at the end, called the book a combination of “A Christmas Carol meets Boyz in the Hood” and that’s pretty accurate. It honestly took me awhile to figure out if the people were all in his head or actually real. Basically, at every floor in the minute it takes to get from his floor to the Lobby, he sees all these important people in his life that were killed by guns, and each gives insight into Will and his brother Shawn, how things have come to a head with Shawn’s death, and how Will is handling or sometimes not handling his grief.

I also loved that the whole point of the book, according to the author, is for everyone to gain a little empathy into the lives of others, and the author does this by forcing us to experience Will’s pain at his brother’s death and giving us an insight into how things have been for his family and friends. In this review, the author also said “Even though this book is an obvious warning against gun violence, it is also meant to humanize young people in the midst of all of this.” I adored the poetry form that he decided to do the novel in and language he used was gorgeous and rich, despite the hard-to-hear subject matter. I really enjoyed this book and very glad I decided to listen to the audiobook read by the author because only an author knows how to put the right emphasis on the words. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.

Kwame Alexander

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I’ve been wanting to read him for awhile, ever since I heard about his Crossover verse novel. So in honor of National Poetry Month, I grabbed a copy of Crush: Love Poems for teens and loved it, because it showed all the different aspects of love and not just the mushy bits. Plus you gotta love any volume that includes Neruda, as I adore his 100 Love Sonnets.  Below are two of my favorite poems (especially the second one) from Crush, 2007.

“I Want You”

 

to think of me      as

Ellington thought of jazz and

Ella thought of scat     as

Lady Day thought of loss and 

Luther thought of love

 

yes, think of me

as the first aria and

the last allegro

in this symphony

of life

 

in other words

let this ancient language of love

be the music

that keeps you 

humming through the night

 

that keeps you

dancing

naked

on the

floor

 

“The Examination (AKA The Before-You-Holla Quiz)”

 

Can you study my heart, and learn to love me with your mind?

Can you lift my spirits, bench press my burdens, exercise my intellect?

Can you get deep like Atlantis, precise like Google, outstanding like 

a Serena Williams serve?

Can you love me like a book of poetry, read me over and over,

uncover the magic between my lines? 

Can you solve me like a quadratic equation, recite Neruda in Spanish?

Forget sexy, can you bring SmartBack?

Can you flirt with me like an E. Ethelbert Miller poem, tease me like

a Bossa Nova song?

Can you sweet-talk me with cotton candy on a rainy day, love me

like Nikki Giovanni loves Tupac?

Can you speak to me with your mouth closed? 

Can you kiss me 100 times with your eyes open? 

Can you love me…with your mind? 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph O. Legaspi and January Gill O’Neil

I was looking up poems on divorce when I found this one. I just like visual imagery of it. Legaspi was born in the Philippines and moved to the US at age twelve. He currently lives in NYC, and works at Columbia University.  In 2004 he cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving Asian American poetry.

Joseph O. Legaspi

My Mother’s Suitors
Joseph O. Legaspi, 2017
The moment my mother tells me she’d fallen out of love
with my father, the Santa Ana winds still
for a wingbeat second and the lemon trees
shudder in the backyard, their fruits falling
in a singular hushed thud.
It is a quiet shaking. I sit across
from her at the kitchen table, a man
now, new to shaving. The knowledge
is no revelation to me, not a throbbing secret
made flesh, not a downy egg sac of spiders,
rather, for years, this lovelessness skulks
in our household like mice with bellies full of rice.
How did I earn this disclosure, and why
after a slippery-fingered dinner of sweet pork sausages
and sliced tomatoes swimming in fish sauce?
The Santa Ana resumes its torturous blasting.
My mother then speaks of past suitors:
those who brought her gifts of rose water,
sugar cane, and summer melons; the jetsetters
who promised her the lavish gems of Kona
and Hong Kong; lovers who mastered the rhumba’s
oceanic waves, the tempter’s hipsway of the tango.
It is astonishing what sustains a person,
what we live on, how my mother has blossomed
with age, as she savors her secret history.
I can’t help but envision her by a window,
leaning into the night as her serenading suitors
gather below her, surrounded by sampaguitas,
luminous children in moonlight.

I discovered the next one by looking up poems on eating, and one of the ones it came up with was this gem about one of my favorite Southern foods, okra. It is awesome fried with some cornmeal but is also great in curry. The author was born in Norfolk, Virginia though she now lives in Massachusetts. She is, according to this bio, “the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, O’Neil also serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ board of directors and teaches at Salem State University.”

January Gill O'Neil

In Praise of Okra
January Gill O’Neil, 2009
No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,
adapt.

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth—
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth.
Soul food.