This book does that YA thing where it tries to tie together a lot of important and concerning themes – being gay, being Muslim, being Iranian, coming out, knowing your parents won’t accept you, finding ‘your people’, being targeted by flight marshalls because of race – but doesn’t quite spend enough time on any of those things to make them significant. That may be because these are some of the author’s exaggerated memories, or the POV writing of a teenager. But a short novel gives an impression without giving much depth.
Title: How it All Blew Up
Author: Arvin Ahmadi
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: 22nd September 2020
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
About the Book
Amir is 18 and gay. He’s always known that it would be hard to come out to his Muslim Iranian American family, but had expected to do it in his own time, or not at all. Instead he finds himself being blackmailed by a boy at school and realises that, instead of doing this himself, he could just run.
Amir finds himself in Rome, and is immediately swept up by members of a loud, proud gay community. For once, he feels as though he can fit in, that he could have a life here. But it’s not as easy to run away from coming out to his parents as he hopes.
The story opens with Amir trying to explain to a US Customs official why he and his family were having a big argument on a plane. This doesn’t serve a huge purpose for the story – except for a point about racial profiling – but the separate interrogation rooms do provide a way of hearing not just from Amir, but from his mother, sister and father too.
Having those additional points of view really helps the story along – we hear from the pragmatic musical theatre-loving sister, the fierce but quiet mother and the father who believes that this is a family matter, not for discussion, whilst inwardly hoping his son will have an easy life and this will all pass.
Amir is … a little naïve. And in many ways this is a story about him coming out to himself, not just his family, as he has been hiding a way an important part of himself for so long. He initially scores himself ‘gay points’ as way of seeing how well he would fit in with the gay community, which he soon forgets as he learns to feel comfortable in himself.
The community he ends up in Rome is in many ways fun and supportive, but in many ways very disfunctional. And perhaps a little odd that a very young 18 year old has ended up being taken in by a community of late 20s/early 30s (?) gay men. In some way it proves that there is not just one type of gay man and Amir begins to see a whole breadth of relationships, from single men to open relationships, to committed partners. And even better, he gets to meet Jahan, a gay Iranian who takes him under his wing.
And, of course, I loved the setting of Rome. Even if some of it is clichéd, but it’s a great backdrop for anyone to learn more about themselves.
There were a few parts of this book that felt as though they needed more fleshing out. And Amir himself seemed to range from being very mature to very, very young. I liked the overall message – that family matters, and families love, even if they can’t understand. I wouldn’t say I necessarily got much closure from the book, especially with the interrogation storyline.
But, as RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Overall 3 stars for a heartwarming story with some poignance but not 100% execution.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.