Title: Down and Across
Author: Arvin Ahmadi
Format: ARC, 322 pages
Publication: February 6th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via blog tour (thank you Penguin Random House and JM @ Book Freak Revelations!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Young Adult
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.
I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.
Welcome to the last stop of the #DownandAcrossPH Blog Tour!
Smart, funny and exceedingly relatable, Down and Across is a solid debut from YA newcomer Arvin Ahmadi.
It centers on sixteen-year-old Iranian-American Scott Ferdowsi who doesn’t quite know what to do in life. He has tried several clubs in school and has considered and changed career paths one too many times. His strict immigrant parents want him to take things seriously and choose medicine or engineering or law, but Scott doesn’t want to settle. So, the summer his parents fly to Iran to take care of an ailing grandfather, Scott quits his internship and hops on a bus to Washington, DC, where he intends to seek counsel from a Georgetown professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of passion, perseverance, and success. What Scott doesn’t intend to do is to stay more than a day. Or befriend the girl she meets on the ride to DC. Or pick up another at the National Zoo. But Scott is definitely in for some adventure. And that is what’s so refreshing about Down and Across, because it’s at once fun and enjoyable and moving. I can’t even tell you how many times I snickered or downright laughed in my commute to work. Scott is charming and funny but he doesn’t make the best decisions. And that made me root for him all the more.
“I woke up that morning with a throbbing headache and some nausea, but the worst offender was the foul stench that had taken over the inside of my mouth. The corpse of my adolescence. I could feel it escaping through my teeth and lips. It felt permanent, like I could brush my teeth a million times and still be stuck with that awful taste. (I brushed twice.)”
In Lorde’s latest album, Melodrama, she has a track that goes, “You asked if I was feeling it, I’m psycho high / Know you won’t remember in the morning when I speak my mind / Lights are on and they’ve gone home, but who am I?” And my reading experience with Ahmadi’s novel reminded me of those lines. Only Lorde will take her hangover as an opportunity for existential reflection. And she does this with such eloquence. Just as how Ahmadi takes up this conversational tone and somehow manages to drive home and capture articulately the anxieties of growing up and not knowing what it is you want. The way he commands his words, his every clever turn of phrase, Ahmadi has a pinpoint-sharp awareness of voice.
“I wondered about Jeanette, who was so assured in her beliefs that she knew exactly how to shoot down the skeptics. Wouldn’t that be nice? Not to question your identity every second of every day, but to simply know.”
The author said in an NPR interview that it was important for him to represent not just diversity of skin color or culture but a diversity of interests and backgrounds. And that, to me, translates really well into the pages because the cast of characters Scott meets in DC is just as colorful and diverse in terms of experiences and personalities, which is reminiscent of another debut that came out a couple of years back—David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. Fiora is this seemingly manic pixie dream girl who turns out to be flawed. I love how Scott doesn’t romanticize her. He gets mad at her. He calls out her bs. There’s Trent. Oh Trent. He is such a pure person. The world needs more Trents! Jeanette, meanwhile, is whatever. She’s infuriating, but her actions make sense. She’s obviously wrong and there’s no reality where I’d agree with her but she’s very firm with her values and acts accordingly and you have to appreciate that. Then there are Scott’s parents, who want what’s best for him even though they don’t necessarily know what that means. There’s this one scene where Scott phones his dad and I totally lost it.
“I spent the night on Fiora’s couch and dozed off thinking about the universe. How it’s indefinitely incomplete—like us. How the best ideas, events, people, and lives don’t need to wrap up nicely to mean something.”
I’m obviously stoked that we’re getting more representation in literature and cinema—especially in the young adult community—where the narrative is leaning towards “issues” and talking about the experience of a person from a specific marginalized race or cultural background. But at the same time I’m delighted that we’re seeing this other dialogue where the protagonist’s skin color isn’t directly linked to the plot. And Down and Across—along with Jasmine Warga’s sophomore book Here We Are Now—is such a fantastic example of this. Because these stories show us that while there’s a multitude of little and significant ways in which people are different, even if we share the same culture, even if we have the same sexuality, there are also things that make us alike more than we realize. And that is so affirming.
Down and Across is not a page-turner. It might not even be something you haven’t seen before. But it gets me. And I’m almost positive it gets you, too.
Arvin Ahmadi grew up outside Washington, DC. He graduated from Columbia
University and has worked in the tech industry. When he’s not reading or writing
books, he can be found watching late-night talk show interviews and editing
Wikipedia pages. Down and Across is his first novel.
You can read Down and Across, too! Enter THIS giveaway for a chance to win one (1) advance reader copy. Entries are open worldwide and will be accepted until 11:59pm (EST), March 5th.
Check out the rest of the tour stops!
Are you picking up this debut anytime soon or are you really picking up this debut anytime soon? If you’re lucky to have read this in advance, can we talk about Trent? ❤ Also, what are some of your recent favorite contemporary YA reads? Sound off in the comments below!