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Book Review: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi

Publisher’s description

Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. 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 and his parents pushing him to settle on a “practical” career, Scott sneaks off to Washington, DC, seeking guidance from a famous psychologist who claims to know the secret to success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold. 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.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

down andWhen Scott (given name Saaket) is left alone for a month while his parents go tend to an ailing family member in Iran, it only takes a few days for him to quit his summer internship and overhaul his life. Scott has a history of quitting things, much to the chagrin of his demanding father, who thinks he should be focused on a path to a successful career (despite Scott only being 17). His dad tells him how he recently read that the best predictor of success is grit—the ability to stick to something, focus, and follow through. After his parents leave the country, Scott becomes rather obsessed with the idea of grit and decides to head from Philadelphia to DC to meet with the professor who penned this article. He plans to stay a day or two, but ends up staying most of the month. He meets Fiora on his bus ride to DC and she immediately takes him under her wing, roping him into hijinks and spending most of Scott’s month-long stay with him. Fiora and Trent, his other new friend, help him figure out how to spend some time with the professor he came to see, and basically act as his guardian angels/instant best friends.

The overall message that grit is within us all, that failure is both inevitable and productive, is a good lesson (especially for teenagers to hear). Readers also trying to figure out their lives will relate to Scott’s quest for independence and purpose, while also being reminded that it’s okay not to have everything figured out while still just in high school. Scott’s month in DC is filled with unpredictable adventures, new friendships with a diverse group of people, and many revelations. YA readers who like books with slightly older characters (all Scott’s new friends are in college) will be drawn to this book full of charismatic and complex people. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780425289877
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/06/2018

Book Review: The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Publisher’s description

ra6The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

authenticsDaria, the main character, and her friends Caroline, Joy, and Kurt feel like they are the only ones that are being their authentic selves all the time. Daria is an agnostic Iranian-American; Caroline is a lesbian performance artist; Joy is Nigerian American and raised by strict parents; and Kurt is super into astrology. They feel like they’re real in ways their peers are not, but a whole bunch of different revelations (both big and small) force them to rethink what’s real, what their identities are, and what it even means to be seen as authentic.

An assignment in English class about family trees and the journey of many students’ families to the United States propels the Authentics (which, yes, they rather insufferably refer to themselves as) to do a cheek swab DNA test to see what they might learn about themselves. Daria gets back information that she doesn’t understand, pushing her to do some digging into her family’s past, uncovering secrets that she can’t believe. While on a mission to reconnect with someone from her past, she meets Rico, a tattooed Mexican artist, who captures her interest (even though there are some very good reasons she should not see him as a potential love interest). As she begins to put together the pieces of her family’s past, Daria also learns that not everything is as it seems for all kinds of people in her life.

 

Examining culture, identity, and family, The Authentics is a compelling look at what happens when everything you thought you knew is suddenly uncertain. A good read full of memorable characters with diverse identities. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062486462

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/08/2017