Down and Across

img_20180911_142351img_20180911_142451Soon-to-be high school senior Saaket “Scott” Ferdowsi has a problem: he has no passion for anything that gives him direction in life.  He easily loses interest in activities, then drops them, and moves on to something else.  Or not.  His parents worry constantly about his lack of preparation for the future and relentlessly (as parents do) offer suggestions, not-so-subtle hints, and, finally, direct intervention by setting him up for a summer internship doing lab analyses of mouse droppings for a friend-of-a-friend researcher.

Leaving him behind for a month while they go to visit an ailing father in Iran, Scott’s parents unwittingly hand him the perfect opportunity to explore his options.  After they leave, he spends his first night after work searching through the internet for helpful advice and stumbles across a Wikipedia entry on Professor Cecily Mallard of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, who theorizes that the “single most reliable predictor of success is grit,” or the ability to keep trying despite failures.  That’s it!  How can he acquire this grit?  Who better to instruct him than Prof. Mallard herself?  Next thing you know he’s abandoning his internship, boarding a bus to DC, setting himself up in a hostel and heading to Mallard’s office for a consult–all without his parents’ knowledge.

Along the way he makes friends with Fiora (a crossword enthusiast who explains to him how her philosophy of life equates with the perfect, neatly intricate design of a crossword puzzle), Trent (local Libertarian bartender/student whose parents pulled his college funding after he announced he was gay and whose goal is to become a campaign assistant for a certain senate candidate), Jeanette (Liberty University summer intern testing her religious convictions in the big city environment by starting up a relationship with nonbeliever Scott) and–best of all–Professor Mallard herself.

The book is a fast read and full of both funny and serious situations that are sometimes believable but mostly not. (Isn’t that what good literature is, anyway?)  What is believable is that Scott gains the passion and direction he’s been searching for by venturing out into this hectic, unplanned life he’s discovered in DC.

LOTS of (repetitive) language that readers may find offensive. (I even picked up a few acronyms I missed in the ’90’s.)  Some sexual references but not much else.  Interesting, thoughtful and accepting treatment of differing personality types, mental illness issues, family dynamics, religions, and social issues.

Down South where I’m from the traditional high school graduation book has always been the Dr. Seuss book, OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!  If you are not concerned about the language issue, this book would be a good replacement.


Categories: Bullying, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Immigrants, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Religion

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