Book Review: How It All Blew Up

Arvin Ahmadi

Rating: 4 out of 5.

published: 23rd September 2020
spoilers? no


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda goes to Italy in Arvin Ahmadi’s newest incisive look at identity and what it means to find yourself by running away.

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.

I was keeping a scoreboard — it’s hard to explain, but the points were never in my favor. They just weren’t. Then I came to Rome, and the points started adding up, you know? They were finally in my favor, and I felt like I was winning.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: racial profiling, homophobic language, threatened outing

How It All Blew Up is a book that reminded me very much of classic gay literature, although obviously modern and contemporary. Which was a nice callback, regardless of how intentional it is.

The story follows Amir, who runs away from home after being threatened with outing. He ends up in Italy where he meets a group of gay men and ends up being pulled into a world of parties and dates in the Sistine Chapel.

The narrative of the book is split so that this is a story being told by Amir and his family, while being questioned by US Customs Officers. It gives it a kind of “this is how we got here” vibe, which I don’t think I’ve read a whole lot of books like, really. If I’ve seen it anywhere, it tends to be in TV, but it worked well here.

Like I said before, this book reminded me a lot of gay classics, specifically that feel of finding a gay found family (you know, the sort that shows up in books like The Charioteer). And there’s something about that link, between then and now, that makes this book even better than it already was.

That’s not to say there weren’t times I was a little like …what about it. Not in a bad way, really, but just enough to make me stop and think. Most of that was down to the fact that there is a moment where the 18-year old main character has sex with a man 10 years older than he is (and it involves cheating). I had mixed feelings about it because on the one hand, it’s not something I was particularly comfortable with, with that age gap, but on the other, I actually liked how this book was a little messy in that sense. The main character wasn’t perfect, and the plot involved him screwing up a fair few times, but I liked that about it. I just didn’t like the particular age gap involved.

And then there were the pop culture references which, honestly, seemed to be all over the place with what the main character did and didn’t know, and doubly so with some of what the side characters recognised or not. But then again, I just really hate pop culture references of any sort in books.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book, and it’s definitely one I would recommend.

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