Book Review

How It All Blew Up

How It All Blew Up

  • Author: Arvin Ahmadi
  • Genre: YA Contemporary, OwnVoices, LGBTQIA
  • Publication Date: September 22, 2020
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Thank you to BookishFirst for providing me with a copy of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily. 

TRIGGER WARNING: bullying, blackmail, homophobia, discrimination, profiling

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?

Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

At turns uplifting and devastating, How It All Blew Up is Arvin Ahmadi’s most powerful novel yet, a celebration of how life’s most painful moments can live alongside the riotous, life-changing joys of discovering who you are.

I read this entire book over the course of a few hours, in a single sitting. I couldn’t put it down! I really loved everything about it. Clearly, since I rated it 5 stars (duh).

The reader first meets Amir when he’s detained by Customs and Border Protection agents. After he and his family were fighting on the plane back from Rome. Each family member reveals their side of the story in short, one-sided confessional chapters, while the rest of the story is told in flashbacks by Amir. 

As a young, closeted gay man from an Iranian Muslim family, Amir feels that his family wouldn’t accept him. Despite the fact that his family isn’t overly religious, his culture and sexuality clash, and he doesn’t feel comfortable or safe coming out while living at home. 

“I had bought into the same idea as everyone else, that Muslims and gay people are about as compatible as Amish people and Apple products. I wish I could say I was better than that, that I ignored the stereotype. But when your safety hinges on a stereotype being true or not, you don’t get to be brave.”

So when a bully tries to blackmail him by outing him to his family, and he can’t come up with the money, he doesn’t see any other option than to run away. What he finds by running away is more than an adventure, but a sense of freedom, a found family, a sense of self, and the confidence to be who he really is. 

I loved how the story was written. It gave me insight into the inner dynamics of a family in turmoil, who has to learn to adjust or break apart. There’s no shortage of humor, but there’s plenty of deeper emotion as well. The characters are well-rounded; flawed yet redeemable, cowardly and brave, dishonest and honest in turns. They’re realistic. I can identify with a lot of the emotions that came up in the story. 

It made me think about how privileged I am that I have never had to worry about being detained and interrogated for having an argument on an airplane simply because of the color of my skin or what country my father came from.

I’ve been doing a lot of OwnVoices reading, and while it does help me learn more about the experiences of people who belong to different culture, religious, national, and ethnic groups than I do, and learn about how similar we are deep down, it also helps me realize my own privilege. 

Overall, the story was a great one, and I enjoyed how it was told. The setting was perfect, the characters were great, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Arvin Ahmadi’s work! I’ll be over here shouting about this one and recommending this to everyone I know.

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