BookPage Teen Top Pick, November 2017
Fifteen-year-old Will Holloman is, indeed, a hollow man (as suggested by his last name). His older brother, Shawn, has been shot and killed, and Will’s sadness over Shawn’s absence is like a tooth that has been ripped out, and his tongue keeps slipping “into the new empty space, / where you know / a tooth supposed to be / but ain’t no more.” Now Will intends to follow the three rules of the street: no crying, no snitching, get revenge. He’s going to play by the rules, which “weren’t meant to be broken. / They were meant for the broken / to follow.” With his brother’s gun in the waistband of his jeans, he heads to his building’s elevator. And here, acclaimed author Jason Reynolds’ brilliant new novel-in-verse (recently nominated for a National Book Award) becomes a ghost story—a gritty, streetwise A Christmas Carol.
As the elevator descends, different ghosts of shootings past—each connected to Will in sometimes surprising ways—enter the carriage. They share experiences, question him and challenge his motives. It’s a long way down from the eighth floor to the lobby, but it only takes seven floors, 60 seconds and six ghosts to make him question his quest for revenge. Reynolds’ elegant verse begs to be read aloud, and teachers will want to discuss what Will might have taken away from each ghostly visit. An ambiguous ending prompts further questions: What, if anything, has Will learned? Is he destined to be just another “block boy” looking to off somebody?