Arvin Ahmadi is the author of Down and Across, Girl Gone Viral, and the forthcoming How It All Blew Up. He graduated from Columbia University and worked in the tech industry prior to becoming a full-time writer. When he’s not reading or writing books, he can be found watching late-night talk show interviews* and editing Wikipedia pages. He lives in New York City.
*His favorite late-night talk show hosts, in no particular order, are Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers. He also really likes Jimmy Fallon and James Corden. Outside of late-night, Arvin is a big fan of the following interviewers: Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams, Robin Roberts, Kelly Ripa, Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper… this list could go on for a while. He just really likes interviews.
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.
Thoughts and Themes: I have seen mixed reviews of this book so I was a little skeptical about finally reading it. The reviews that I had seen had called this book out for calling this a Muslim story but then not centering the religion. The reviews that I saw also
Before I begin my review, I want to state that I am not Muslim so I recommend that you all find some own voices reviews for this book that can comment on those aspects of this story.
I think that Amir explains the complexity of his family not being religious but it still being a cultural thing quite well. I think we also do see how his family being Muslim affects the way he perceives them and how others perceive them. I think we see this in his initial belief that he couldn’t come out to them and how quick his new Italian friends were to believe that his family did kick him out.
Something that I do really like about this book is the conversation that Amir’s mother and father are having about him in the interrogation rooms. So much of what they are saying really spoke to me and made me feel like I could better understand my parent’s initial reactions to me coming out. I like when the whole family comes together and begins to discuss the event that happened in the airplane.
What I really didn’t like was how this story centered both on Amir not coming out to his parents but also him living a lie in Italy. I thought that the scenes in Italy were beautifully written and some of the end scenes were well-done. I just didn’t like that through the whole first part his new friends had a different image of his parents. I think the fact that they had this image of his parents really made it hard for Amir to think his parents would respond in anything but a negative manner.
Characters: There are several characters that are involved in this story. While Amir is the main character we also get to meet the friends he makes in Italy, as well as his family. I liked seeing how each of the interactions affected Amir and changed him and his way of seeing things. I really liked all of the people that he met in Italy and liked how they each served a purpose in his life. I liked getting to know Amir’s family in the interrogation room scenes and seeing how much they cared for their son and brother.
I liked Soraya a lot and was hoping to see more of her relationship with Amir and to see if it shifted at all. I really like the things that she points out both about the way her family is being treated in the interrogation room and about Amir. I like that she isn’t afraid to call people out on their behavior even if it means she is calling out her parents.
Writing Style: This story is told in first person and includes Amir’s perspective throughout as well as interrogation room scenes with his family. The story starts in the past prior to Amir graduating as someone is blackmailing him, and he runs away to Italy rather than come out to his parents. It then goes through Amir’s adventures in Italy and includes the interrogation room scenes throughout as they discuss a scene that happens on the plane. The story focuses both on this scene as well as Amir’s coming of age story as he figures out who he is and wants to be while in Italy.
I liked that we got to see both the scenes in Italy as well as some of the interrogation scenes. Something that I liked about the way the interrogation scenes are written is that we are only seeing what each of the family members are saying and we know nothing about the interrogator.