How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

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How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Wild summer evening parties in Rome for this young, gay, American Muslim coming to terms with his sexuality, and how to face his parents with the truth of who he is.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2020
Publisher: Hot Key Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781471409929

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18-year-old Amir is American Iranian, a Muslim, and gay. He struggles with his identity, unable to face telling his parents who he really is, so when another student at his school starts blackmailing him, threatening to show his parents photographs of Amir kissing his boyfriend Amir panics and runs Italy! So begins a journey for Amir, and his family, where they all discover more about him, and who he really is, and who he really wants to be.

In Italy, Amir falls quickly into a new gay lifestyle, meeting new people who welcome him into their circle and show him around Italy. They believe that his family kicked him out however, so he finds himself living a lie once again, though in a slightly different way. As he continues to avoid his own family's phone calls, afraid to face up to whether or not they now know the truth about him he also avoids conversations with his new friends about his family and what happened when he came out. These new friends of Amir's are older, in some cases quite a bit older, and I did feel a little awkward about that sometimes. Amir comes across as being very young, and I often felt I was reading about a fifteen year old rather than an eighteen year old, and at times the party life they bring Amir into seemed unrealistically bright and wonderful. But then, edges of darkness did begin to creep in. The perfect world that Amir thinks he has found isn't so perfect after all, and there are seemingly happy relationships that perhaps aren't so good after all.

What I really liked in the book was when we begin to read Amir's sister's point of view. We also get some words from his parents too, but it was his sister's words that I particularly enjoyed, and I felt they really added to the story, supporting the slightly unreal aspects of the Italian side of the story with the realities of what was going on back in America with his family. I also really liked the character of Jahan, another gay Iranian. I would have liked to know more of his story, and I enjoyed the parts when he and Amir chat together, sharing their culture. I had thought there would be more about religion, and Amir's struggles with his sexuality as a muslim. This isn't really a focus for the story, but I think it shows the fears many young adults would share, regardless of their cultural and religious backgrounds, in coming out to their parents.

I did have a couple of issues with the story. Maybe I just don't know enough about wiki editors, but it seemed unlikely to me that he was earning enough money from this to rent a flat in Rome. Also, he slips so very easily into that life, getting a flat, living a 'dream' Italian life. Perhaps I'm just too jaded and old now for such jaunts, but I kept thinking to myself 'how is he affording all of this?!' and what kind of unrealistic lifestyle is he living with these men?! I also wanted a little more from the resolution. What, for example, happens to the blackmailer? And how did Amir's family finally manage to leave the interview cells at the airport in the end? I didn't feel totally frustrated, but I just would have liked a little more of a conclusion.

Overall, though, I found this a fast, easy read with an interesting (if not always believable) premise. I really liked the parts where Amir spoke about his identity, and the struggles with finding who he wanted to be.

Further reading: You might also want to take a look at Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

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