I was pretty drawn to this book when I read the synopsis and the first few sections - otherwise I wouldn't have redeemed my points for it. Young adult coming of age contemporary is what I often gravitate towards, and I was hoping this one could be another great book to add to my collection. While I do think the concept was strong, I did have my issues with it, which I'll definitely touch on, but I'll start with some positives first. This book is a pretty short read, my copy coming in at 266 pages, and I found myself finishing in just about two sittings. I thought the interview format mixed in with flashbacks was an interesting style to take, and it created a balance between Amir telling the story about what happened to the Customs officer (and the reader), and for us to see things unravel in due time. I also liked hearing from Amir's family, because oftentimes they are absent from YA stories. I loved following Soraya as she put the pieces together to find her brother, and her discussions on how she felt left behind while also feeling partially responsible for Amir taking off to Italy. The book also disusses the struggle for familial acceptance. A large part of this book is Amir fleeing to avoid coming out to his family after being blackmailed by a fellow classmate. He doesn't feel like they would accept him, in part due to their religion and beliefs. And through the interviews, we see his parents outwardly struggle with it. We get to hear about their thoughts and fears, and follow their personal journey along with Amir's physical one. Which, I felt, was one of the strongest parts of the novel.
Ok, so, now onto the things I was a litle underwhelmed by and less excited for. First, for such a short novel, I felt the pacing was a bit off. 200 pages in with very minimal conflict and then we're hit with an event that makes everything spiral for the remaining 60. I also had a few issues with the believability of the novel. Sure, I don't doubt that Amir would have found people who would help get him on his feet in a foreign country, but I find it a bit hard to believe it would happen on his first night there. A lot of events just felt like pure coincidences for the sake of moving the plot along, so as much action could happen in the span of one month. Sometimes things like this won't bother me - I will acknowledge that fiction is fiction, and sometimes I do need to suspend my disbelief a bit - but I found it happening a bit too often for my taste. I thought the description was a bit misleading when it claimed "Amir has to tell the whole truth... or risk losing his hard-won freedom." While yes, the situation seems serious - Amir and his family are in an interrogation room at an airport after being escorted off a plane - the tone never seemed heavy. I never really believed any of them were in danger - the book definitely made slight commentary about the situation, but I never feared for any of their safety. And lastly, I won't get specific, but early on in the novel it's hinted that there is an infamous "nipple" story. Some people mentioned in early copies there was a scene regarding a nipple, and I wasn't sure if it would make it into the finished version. But it did. It made me uncomfortable, I felt it was absolutely unnecessary and put in for simple shock value, and it just would never happen.
In conclusion, this book is messy. It details a boy running away from his issues and arrival in a place where he can learn to embrace his identity and all the things that comes with it. And while I do have to commend it for some of its conversations, I will admit it's not without its problems. I'd call How it All Blew Up a mixed bag for me, but can understand that other people may be able to get more out of it.Thank you to BookishFirst and the publisher, Viking, for the finished copy, all thoughts and opinions are my own.