This New YA Book Is Perfect If You're Trying To Figure Out WTF You're Doing With Your Life

by Kerri Jarema

The first line of Arvin Ahmadi's debut YA novel, Down and Across, perfectly encompasses the mental state of main character Saaket "Scott" Ferdowski just before he is about to embark on a summer in pursuit of freedom, happiness, and, above all, grit:

"Eight mornings before running away, I found myself at McDonald’s, wondering about the direction of my life."

And if that one line alone doesn't make you laugh out loud in recognition, you'll find many more like it scattered throughout Down and Across.

The new young adult novel follows Scott, who only really excels at one thing — quitting. His friends all know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott just can't seem to figure it out. With college applications on the horizon, his parents are putting more pressure on him than ever to settle on a prestigious, practical career path. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, D.C., to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in "grit," the psychology of success. Instead, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime:

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, $13, Amazon

A new friendship with Fiora Buchanan, a gutsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles, leads to Scott sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the whole crossword thing a try — all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

It's a must-read book for anyone who has ever felt a little lost. Here are nine more reasons why Ahmadi's debut is the book to dive into this February, for teen and adult readers alike.

For The Refreshing Diverse Representation You've Been Wanting More Of

Ahmadi has spoken on Twitter before about his "quirky characters" and you'll really find no shortage of them here. From "a gay southern Libertarian bartender slash aspiring politician" to "a conservative Christian girl crushing on a Muslim boy" you'll find characters that are refreshingly realistic exactly because of their many contradictions. The people Ahmadi has created here are complex, a little weird, and have problems and experiences that you'll be able to relate to, no matter what boxes you fit into.

For Discussions About Life That Will Make You Say #Relatable

You've probably had moments where you've felt a lot like Scott... and not just as a teenager. Being a person is hard, and it can feel like you're the only one struggling to figure out what you want to do and who you want to be. But that is so not the case, and Down and Across is here to remind you of it. Everyone is just trying to find things they love to do and people they love to be around, and the journey is a long one. If you've been looking for some validation on those points, this is the book you need.

To Vicariously Live That Off-The-Grid Summer Vacation You Never Got To Take

OK, so you maybe (almost definitely) relate to Scott's desire to run away from home and have a life-changing summer of adventure. But, if you're anything like me, you've never been quite bold enough to do it. If you know that a cinematic road trip is just not in your immediate future, Down and Across will give you all the fun feels of freedom and discovery, without any of the personal drama. It's the best kind of escapist-meets-realistic lit, and you're going to want it in your life.

To Learn Way More Than You Ever Thought You Wanted To Know About Crosswords

You might not think that crosswords could ever be such a huge part of a YA book, but in Down and Across, they play a couple of hugely important roles. For one, crosswords are a large part of Fiora's life and passion, and just might help bring Fiora and Scott together. For another, Ahmadi has done so much cool research behind what goes into making (and loving) crossword puzzles, that I had never even thought about but which I am now very happy to know. If you like your books with a side of random knowledge, pick this up ASAP.

To Help You Talk To Your Parents About Your Own Dreams

If you're a teen (and, you know, even if you're not) you might still be in the midst of a struggle with your parents or other authority figures in your life who have a certain idea about what you should be doing with your time that just doesn't quite match up to your own feelings. But reading about Scott's trials, failures, and yes, successes, at finding himself both as an individual and as a son will make you think so much more broadly about how to approach your various identities and expectations in your own life. If a book like Down and Across can help people explore their lives with those they love more openly? I think that's a total must-have.

To Inspire You To Broaden Your Own Horizons

When you first meet Scott, he has some very specific ideas about what "success" and "grit" really mean. But by leaving his hometown and striking out on his own, Scott is able to see that life is so much bigger than he imagined and people so much more complex. And it's hard to imagine that reading Scott's story won't do much the same for you. Sometimes, you need a little push to get out of your own rut every once in a while. Down and Across might just be that push for you.

To Remind You That The True Meaning Of Grit Is Being Yourself... Unapologetically

In the end, Scott's exploration of self in Down and Across can boil down to one important thing: Just persist in being exactly who you want to be, and doing exactly what you want to do. It's a simple but powerful reminder for readers everywhere, whether you're in high school, college, or just trying to find the career path that's right for you. It's the uplifting, complicated, funny YA you need to get you through the rest of the winter. And come spring, you might just find yourself on a new adventure, too.

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, $13, Amazon