*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
After fear of being outed by a classmate, Amir Azadi runs away and finds sanctuary in Italy. And when in Rome, right? Homeless and alone, Amir finds an unlikely community in Italy and learns to rediscover himself, all parts of him. But on his way home, after an incident on a plane, he’s forced to recount his days and tell his story in front of an interrogation room. All while his family are in another room telling theirs.
As a reader who is very neutral towards contemporary stories, How It All Blew Up was surprising and super refreshing. I liked it; it was something different. The story follows Amir as he recalls his entire journey to and from Italy to airport security. His family were flagged after the flight and separated so the staff could understand what was happening. Amir is an Iranian-American teenager who was moments away from graduation when a classmate threatens to out him to his Muslim family. For a while, Amir is able to buy his silence. Still, it all becomes too much on the day of graduation and, instead of heading to school, he makes his way to the airport and jumps on the first flight out of there. There he makes the decision to go to Italy and is quickly introduced to a community of people who help young Amir as he struggles to let go of his past.
I feel like the bare bones of this novel is extremely good. A story about a boy who doesn’t know what he wants just yet meets a crew of people who are willing to help and learns to understand himself in the process. I just feel like the execution of it was entirely rushed. I have to admit I was entirely hooked from the very beginning. Still, as Amir makes his roots in Italy, the story seems to lose all its interest. If you’re a reader who can suspend enough belief, this story can be magical and thrilling. But I just couldn’t engage with the story, and it began to feel very under-developed very quickly. Despite never having step foot in Italy before the novel, Amir can navigate Italian society quite quickly thanks to his new friends who help him become more comfortable with himself. The age gap between Amir and his friends was a little unsettling. At first, I didn’t think much of it, mainly because they are introduced as essential figures in Amir’s life who help him come to terms with his sexuality. I really found them all sweet in the beginning, giving Amir much-needed stability. Slowly, he realises he’s been looking through rose-tinted glasses, and his perfect friends aren’t as perfect as he’s built them up to be. I feel like the age gap between Amir, and his friends should’ve been acknowledged more, especially since two of them make a move on him when he’s only just turned eighteen.
What the synopsis doesn’t tell you is that the book is also told from other perspectives, mainly Amir’s sister. She is desperately trying to find her brother with quick scenes from his parent’s views. This gave them a lot more depth and understanding. I actually really liked the pacing between Amir’s chapters with the ones of him family as they all tell their part of the story, piecing together and leading to the moment where it all, essentially, blew up. That part was quite fun. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the story being told in the middle of an interrogation mostly. I guess for the sake of the story, it added a dramatic flair, but I wonder if there was another way of doing it.
I wasn’t anticipating for this review to come out so negative. I quite enjoyed Amir’s story at the beginning. How It All Blew Up was uplifting and adventurous. I was rooting for a better life for Amir. It’s a shame this story was lacking a lot in terms of pacing and characterisation because the plot was so good that I was disappointed that the rest didn’t hold up.