Discover the secret to success in this incisively funny debut, for fans of John Corey Whaley, David Arnold, and Ned Vizzini!
“Quirky and charming, wise and unpredictable.” –Khaled Hosseini, #1
New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner
Down and Across
By Arvin Ahmadi
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
“We’re all just trying to keep moving. Sometimes we know where we’re going and sometimes we get lost. But as long as we move, we grow.”
Synopsis (from inside cover): 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’t commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion. With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious about 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.
WHAT I LIKED:
-A FUNNY, RELATABLE PROTAGONIST
Although I had a few issues with Scott (addressed later in the review), he was the perfect mix of witty and self-reflective. As a college student who has had her fair share of doubts about the future (I am an English major afterall), I found that I could deeply empathize with Scott’s predicament. Some people are blessed with knowing exactly who they are and what they want, but for the majority of us, growing up and thinking about the future is daunting. The way Ahmadi tackles these issues, the way he crafts Scott’s voice, allows for readers of all ages to see a little of themselves in Scott.
-WELL WRITTEN, BEAUTIFUL DIVERSITY
From subtle nods to Iranian culture to snippets of Farsi, Scott’s (real name Saaket’s) Iranian American heritage shines in this novel. I loved learning more about his background, which is so different than my own! Unfortunately, it’s still rare to see a PoC main character in a YA novel, so it adds an extra layer of importance to Scott’s voice. Also, LGBTQ+ representation, which is just <3.
-THOUGHT PROVOKING PASSAGES
One of the things I loved about Down and Across was the way it forced me to stop and reflect. For the most part, it was a fun, quick read, yet there were surprisingly deep commentaries on life, love, and finding yourself that I really appreciated. Sometimes it was amusing, sometimes it was painful, but Ahmadi weaved a hopefulness into Scott’s voice that really touched me. No matter how far off course life takes you (or you take yourself), as long as we’re growing, is it really a waste?
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-THE DEPICTION OF ALL FEMALES NOT FIORA
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that I wasn’t entirely pleased with Scott’s inner monologue when it came to any female character that wasn’t Fiora. Scott’s voice, which I loved most of the time, became a bit condescending and judgemental. And while not all the female characters in this novel are gems, I do wish that there wasn’t the feeling of only one girl that Wasn’t Like Other Girls™.
-MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL…*SIGH*
For once in my life, I would like a contemporary YA novel written by a man that has a female love interest not defined by her quirkiness or delinquent behavior. In Ahmadi’s defense, he does complicate Fiora’s character, going beyond the stereotypical, two-dimensional Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Down and Across is, at times, remarkably meta and self aware about Fiora’s characterization. However, just because a character says she’s not a stereotype or a characterture, doesn’t mean that she isn’t. Think Alaska, from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. The emphasis on Fiora’s mental health and home life help her become more three dimensional, but I wish she would have broken free of a few more classic tropes.
Overall, Down and Across was a fun, quick, and thought-provoking read! The pure uniqueness of Scott’s voice and experiences made it entirely worth the read. While I wish Ahmadi would have avoided some of the more overused YA tropes for his characters, the plot was incredibly unique, and the wisdom it offered speaks to everyone, regardless of age.
IF YOU LIKED…
If you liked Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz or Looking for Alaska by John Green, you should definitely pick up Down and Across!
About the Author:
Arvin Ahmadi was born and raised in Northern Virginia. He graduated from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn. Down and Across is his first novel.