How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi
Overview: Amir left before graduation. He just drove out of town and got on a plane to New York and then another on to Italy. Instead of paying the blackmail money or facing his conservative, Iranian family's reaction to him being outed as gay, he runs. In Rome, he stumbles into a found family of gay guys, many American, who take him under their wing. With these new friends in Rome, Amir feels like he can truly be himself for once in his life. With the money from editing Wikipedia pages, he wonders if he can just stay in Italy forever. But when he can't ignore his family's calls and drama starts up in the friend group, Amir realizes that you can't keep running forever. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Amir is well developed, and I enjoyed living in his brain. He's lost and constantly scared, but he also has a fearless streak that gets him to Rome in the first place. Most of all, he's confused. He feels like his identities contradict each other, and he's convinced his family will never accept him. In Rome, he's very open and willing to follow this new group who do help him build his confidence and affirm an identity he's kept buried so long. I like his arch of realizing that being half himself like he was before isn't going to work anymore. His time in Rome gives him the confidence to push for his family to have real conversations instead of dismissing and burying their disagreements.
His family is an interesting mix of personalities. His dad is the most conservative of everyone. His mom is slightly more open, and his sister, Sorya, is an outspoken feminist in that loud, preteen way. She doesn't understand her parent's hangups and just wants her family put back together again. It's cool that we get to hear from all of them in their own voices through the interview portions of the book. In these confessionals, we get to honestly see his parents reckon their culture and religion against their deep love for their son. Both his parents say this, but it comes up most with his father, is that they're less caught up in their religion and more mourning this idea they had of their child. Also the idea of Amir having an easy life that they know won't be the same now that they know he's gay. They do have plenty of homophobic preconceived notions, but you can tell they're trying. I found it surprisingly compelling.
As for his group of friends in Italy, it's sort of cool and it sort of gave me weird vibes. The main love interest in the book is only two years older than Amir and also in university, and I enjoyed watching them hang out, but everyone else in the group seems significantly older than Amir. Like 30 or close to it? It's never made super clear. While I think that mentorship or even friendship from older adults can be important and powerful (I have plenty of adult friends I've made through my different interests), I got some weird vibes here because there were moments where friendship seemed to cross over into a dangerous power dynamic with physical intimacy and relationships. It didn't happen with any of the main friends, but some of the guys on the fringe of the group hit on Amir and then he ended up hooking up with one of them. That whole scene gave me weird vibes because Amir didn't seem all that into it and had a lot of bad feelings afterwards. If this group had been 100% platonic 100% of the time, I would've felt better about the age difference and power dynamics.
Plot: 4 I liked the idea of Amir exploring a new city and being allowed more space to be his true self without all the preconceived notions. A lot of the book, much like Arvin's other contemporary, reads a lot older because Arvin is the only teen in the story besides the mentions of his first boyfriend at the start of the book and his sister. While there's nothing more adult here than in a lot of upper YA and its writing style falls into YA's fast paced and coming of age arch, there is a different vibe to this book. Instead of wondering what the adult world is going to be like, Amir goes off and lives it. It's an interesting point of view to read, and it makes the book stand out.
Writing: 4 The pacing is quick and the format of the book will keep you reading. The chapters alternate between the main part of the story counting back the dates he was in Italy and then different transcript interviews from each family member because they got into an argument on the plane and got detained. The chapters are short and the transcripts are even shorter, so it's east to read a lot in a single sitting.
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