Down and Across

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Down and Across Book Poster Image
Teen searches for grit in sweet coming-of-age story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Examines conflicts common in immigrant families. Insight into Iranian culture, including Farsi phrases. Lots of Washington, D.C., geography and culture, including where to hang out, types of people who live and work there. Scott does research on some accomplished people, including Persian poet Ferdowsi, performance artist Marina Abromovíc, author Khaled Hosseini, and politician Harvey Milk. Information on how crosswords are designed and how to solve them.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, or "grit," will get a person far in life. Sometimes it's good to break out of your routine; be spontaneous; work hard; and be honest with yourself, your family, and your friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many characters good people but flawed in realistic ways. Scott lies to his parents, runs away, but he grows up, learning to take responsibility for actions, how to be a better friend, how to find grit within himself. Fiora is irresponsible, plays with people's lives, but deep down cares about her friends. Her actions are intended to shake them up and show them how to have fun in life; sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Trent is kind and helpful. Characters come from all walks of life, display diverse beliefs. 

Violence

Bicycle crash with injuries. Character grabbed and dragged but not hurt in a racist attack.

Sex

Scott thinks about the attractiveness and sexiness of women. There's a "will they or won't they" tension between Scott and Fiora. One character admits to sexting in church. Characters are in a bar that's a pickup scene. Characters kiss and make out, but it's tame and not graphically described.

Language

Characters swear, but not a lot, including "f--k" and variations, "s--t" and variations, "ass," "a--hole," "balls," "damn," "pissed," "God," "butt," "hell," "douche bag," "goddamn," "d--khead," "boobs," and "bitch."

Consumerism

Most brands and media used for scene setting, including McDonald's, My Little Pony, Raisin Bran, Lean Cuisine, BuzzFeed, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twizzlers, Mario Kart, Etch A Sketch, Cards Against Humanity, Coke, and Amazon.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many scenes at bars where all the characters drink, though Scott is underage. At one bar he gets drunk when the bartender serves him without an ID. At another, he borrows an ID in order to drink. One character shown drunk and high at work. Fiora drinks and texts drunk. Adults drink in a park during the day. One character's mom had an Oxycontin addiction.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Down and Across is a coming-of-age story about an Iranian American teen boy who runs away on a quest to learn about perseverance and success. Scott lies to his parents about where he is and takes off for Washington, D.C., where he meets new friends and tracks down a Georgetown professor he believes can help him sort out his life. The story examines the effects of the pressure some immigrant parents put on the their children to succeed. Scott learns a lot of good lessons about responsibility and honest relationships. Characters drink in many scenes, including Scott, who's underage. There's some kissing and making out, but it's tame and not graphically described. Characters swear a little ("f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole) and make some questionable decisions, but it is a realistic representation of how young adults behave.

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What's the story?

In DOWN AND ACROSS, Iranian American teen Saaket, or Scott as he prefers to be called, is desperate to break free of his suffocating parents and find his own way in life. His father keeps pushing him toward prestigious, high-earning career paths, but Scott isn't interested. The problem is that he doesn't have any of his own ideas about his future. He's never found a passion or stuck with anything. When his parents leave him alone for a month, Scott abandons the research internship his dad set up for him and takes off for a few days in Washington, D.C. His goal is to get advice from a renowned Georgetown professor famous for her theories on success. On his way to D.C., he meets Fiora, a free spirit and crossword enthusiast. As two days turn into more than three weeks, their friendship leads to some interesting adventures and new friends for Scott, who learns a lot about the world, his family, and himself.

Is it any good?

This coming-of-age story is cute but a little too fill-in-the-blanks formulaic, which is ironic given the crossword theme that runs throughout. In Down and Across, author Arvin Ahmadi writes teen dialogue well and creates in Scott a character you want to root for. Scott feels the push and pull of loving his parents but also chafing under their overbearing demands. Arvin shows the stress some children of immigrant parents experience. Scott's parents sacrificed to come to America and put their hopes and dreams onto him. Because so much of his life has been planned for him, Scott's never had a chance to figure out who he is or what he wants to do. The book doesn't have much of a plot: It's a series of Scott's interactions and adventures when he runs away to Washington, D.C. The characters he meets are fairly standard YA fare: Fiora is straight out of the manic pixie dream girl trope, but with a little bit more depth; Trent is an over-the-top nice Southern gentleman; and Jeanette is a high-strung religious conservative.

On the positive side, in meeting these people who are so different from him, Scott learns to be a keen observer of human nature and learns a lot about himself. Though the story drags here and there, Down and Across is a sweet and earnest read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the representation of immigrant families in movies, television, and books, like the Ferdowsi family in Down and Across. Immigrants parents often risk a lot to go to America, leaving friends and family behind. Do you think it is fair for them to expect their kids to work hard to honor those sacrifices? Should the kids be more appreciative? Or should the parents let the kids have the freedom to choose their paths?

  • How do you you feel about stories where kids take off and don't tell their parents where they are? What are the real-life dangers of this, as opposed to the way it works as a plot device in a story?

  • Are you a person with interests and passions? What are they? If not, why do you think you haven't connected with anything yet?

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