Review: Down and Across

Title: Down and Across
Author: Arvin Ahmadi
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary
Availability: On shelves February 6, 2018
Review Copy: ARC via publisher

Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try—all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

Review: Sometimes you just need a bit of humor. Down and Across will definitely take care of that. This book made me laugh so many times. Scott has a great sense of humor which shows even in moments of extreme frustration – and there are plenty of those in the story.

Scott, or Saaket as his parents originally named him, needs every bit of humor he can find as he tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. His father has been pushing Scott to choose his path, but Scott doesn’t feel ready. He explains how the big bang created a scattered and acceptable universe that was indefinitely incomplete. He wonders though, “Why aren’t I allowed to be indefinitely incomplete too?” He is simply not ready to commit to the career choices his father is suggesting and he is lacking in confidence.

In the midst of his soul-searching, Scott takes off for Washington, DC and meets Fiora. She brings even more humor to the story. She’s unpredictable and loves taking risks or getting someone else to do so while she snickers and watches the fallout. She supports Scott as he is trying to become grittier, but she also encourages him to do things that defy logic. “That’s how humans evolve: setting goals and chasing them, making families and protecting them…But people like us? It’s not our job. Not yet. We’re still figuring things out. So we take smaller steps and enjoy them irrationally.” I think there could be a market for t-shirts saying, “Take small steps & enjoy them irrationally.” In her mind I may be too old for this philosophy, but it sure appeals to me.

Fiora introduces Scott to crossword puzzles, but also pushes him into situations that make him reach beyond what he thinks he can do. This helps him in many ways though it also causes more than a few troublesome and sometimes dangerous situations. When Scott talks to the professor specializing in grit, she tells him he needs to develop a growth mindset. Fiora is helping him with that and may need some help with it herself.

Through one of Fiora’s risky ideas, Scott ends up crossing paths with Trent. They have an interesting exchange when Trent asks about Scott’s background. This is just one instance among many where people are learning about each other and are sometimes bumbling their way through. Identity is a major theme throughout. There are multiple cases of mistaken assumptions about who people really are. This is especially evident with one specific character who readers will likely despise by the end of the book. Seriously.

Recommendation: Get this one as soon as you can – especially if you enjoy contemporary novels with a healthy portion of humor. Down and Across is incredibly relatable and the characters will steal your heart.