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.
How It All Blew UpFeatured
In Rome, Amir finds his own community and begins to embrace himself as he is. That doesn't mean he is ready to tell his parents though. The book is told through flashbacks while the family is being interrogated by US Customs Officers after an incident on a plane. With both his, his sister's, and occasionally his parent's perspectives, the book manages not only to capture the difficulty of coming-out, but also the trouble with forced coming-out, finding your own community, embracing yourself as you are, and the racism towards people who appear Middle Eastern.
What I loved: I was completely captivated by the characters and events in this book. Although the main themes are about coming-out and embracing yourself, there is an important theme around racism that appears throughout the US Customs interrogation. I really enjoyed that although we know the officer(s) is/are there, the only people we hear from are Amir and his family. His parents, through these interviews, state the ways in which they have previously changed their appearance to be less of a target (for instance, his mother only wearing her hijab at the mosque and his father shaving off his beard). This secondary theme is really powerful and important.
Amir's story is pretty unique, and I love the idea of traveling to Rome at 18, feeling unable to be fully yourself and finding a new family who allows you to do so. Amir has many missteps, but this felt so believable and genuine. His path to loving himself also follows his parents and their reckoning with who their son is. Ultimately, I loved seeing the growth of all the characters, both Amir's and his family's (primarily told through his sister's eyes).
Final verdict: Ultimately powerful and genuine, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is a riveting story of coming-out and family - both blood and found. Highly recommend for fans of SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA and/or MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE.
He finds a community of gay men in Rome who accept and educate him. He finally feels that he can be himself. Amir is a sympathetic but flawed character. He makes some errors in judgment in terms of honesty and he also has a hookup with an older gay man, which results in some negative fallout.
Themes of prejudice run throughout - there is homophobia, of course, but also addressed is the systemic bigotry against Muslim people.
I really liked the characters. Amir's sister is amazing and tenacious in her search for Amir. It is heartening to see Amir's parents put their love for him above their prejudices.