Review: ‘How It All Blew Up’ by Arvin Ahmadi

A mother’s job is simple: it is to love her children, unconditionally. I am beginning to realize that from the moment my children were born, I have looked at them and loved them with certain conditions in mind.


4/5 paper planes

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA contemporary (LGBTQ+; coming-of-age)
Publication: 22 Sep 2020
Pages: 304 (hardcover)


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 U.S. Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

Content warnings: blackmail (threat of forced outing); bullying; racism (Islamophobia; racial profiling); homophobia; sexual references; swearing

What I Thought:

A funny, bingeable, queer coming-of-age novel, with multiple first-person perspectives from the (gay) protagonist, his parents and younger sister.

‘How It All Blew Up’ feels like a slice-of-life sort of story. It’s told with a dual-timeline of present-day interrogation room scenes and past scenes narrated by Amir – this made plot exposition more interesting and reminded me of how the TV show ‘Élite’ is constructed (flash-forward scenes and flashbacks). The ending (was it an epilogue?) felt really random. Was it meant to be symbolic? Will we return to Italy in a sequel? Who knows. I did like where we left off on Amir’s family’s story: poignant, lovely, frazzled and bittersweet

The writing style in the flashback scenes felt a lot more ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ in comparison to the interrogation scenes, which is the opposite of what I would have expected. Sometimes it felt like I was being told a list of what Amir was doing in Rome, which I think prevented me from becoming totally immersed by what must have been a very enchanting month for Amir in a new city halfway across the world. Amir’s wonder did shine through most of the time, though!

All the characters in this, even Amir, are flawed and felt like real people. Even the queer boys in Rome who readily accept Amir into their friendship group aren’t perfect. The disillusionment was shocking, if however necessary and believable.

I liked that we got to peek into the perspective of Amir’s parents and sister – does that happen often in LGBTQ+ contemporaries? I don’t think I’ve read many like that. While also a coming-out, coming-of-age story, I think this was also a coming-to-terms story for Amir’s parents. Everything felt very honest – Ahmadi did say this was his “most personal book”. I actually almost cried reading some of Roya’s (Amir’s mother) parts! Ahmadi wrote in his Author’s Notes:

On the surface, [this book] complies with the narratives you expect from gay people and Muslim people… But beneath the surface, it’s a different narrative: a Muslim family defying the stereotype and proving that they love their son.

If you enjoy queer coming-of-age stories, with a side-helping of wanderlust washed down with some belly laughs, I would recommend!

Thank you to NetGalley and Hot Key Books for the eARC for an honest review.

Thanks for reading! Have you read ‘How It All Blew Up’ or is it on your TBR? What queer books have you enjoyed this year? Let me know any thoughts below!


4 thoughts on “Review: ‘How It All Blew Up’ by Arvin Ahmadi

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