compelling YA contemporary

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HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is an absolutely riveting coming-out story. Amir Azadi is an Iranian American who has always felt a bit on the outside, even in his own family who he is sure would not love him if he comes out. When another boy at high school blackmails him before graduation to pay him off or for him to expose him to his parents, Amir panics. When he is unable to find the money, he flees and chooses a random place to go. His family is worried about him, and he just tells them he is OK before trying to find his own way.

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.

Please note that I received a copy from the publisher through Bookish First. All opinions are my own.