box it up

Scott Ferdowski (his real name is Saaket, but he goes by Scott) is trying to enjoy the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. But it's tough. His two best friends were chosen to travel in Asia, leaving him alone in Philadelphia. He doesn't have a girlfriend. And his father has been insisting he complete an internship in a science lab at a nearby college. With increasing pressure to pick a career path (preferably a lucrative one, according to his parents), Scott is growing increasingly unhappy with his current situation. 

But a quick trip to Washington D.C. changes everything. 

An online quiz on grit makes Scott feel like he doesn't have enough grit to face his future head on, so he decides that he should go to D.C. and meet the Georgetown professor who is writing the book on grit, literally, to get some advice. 

A two-day trip to the nation's capital turns into several weeks away from home, new friends, a different type of summer internship, a crazy cruciverbalist (that's a crossword puzzle builder if you're like me and didn't recognize the word right away), some imaginative thinking to earn money, a stolen bike, a date at the zoo, and a black tie dinner with Congressmen and diplomats. 

Coming of age has never been grittier than in this new novel from Arvin Ahmadi. Down and Across is a charming reminder of everything that you loved and hated about being a teenager. With plenty of angst and way too much relationship drama, it's a winning look at how we grow up and how much we have to go through to become real people. Scott's journey may not be exactly like how you remember yours, or how you're currently building your journey to adulthood, but the emotions and worries and guilt and fear are universal. 

I really enjoyed Down and Across. As a crossword lover and one-time aspiring cruciverbalist, I wish there had been more puzzles in the story, but I loved how Ahmadi used the crosswords as a metaphor for growing up and finding your own voice. Scott's story is funny and interesting and a little cringe-worthy, as all the best coming of age stories are. Not to be missed!


Galleys for Down and Across were provided by Penguin Random House through, with many thanks.