Another NetGalley read: this one was published on 22 September so I’m not too late with this review.

Arvin Ahmadi – “How it All Blew Up”

(18 June 2020)

A book about a gay American Iranian Muslim teen, told to his interrogators as he sits in a suite at an airport after an altercation on a plane … but this is also a novel for young adults about being you, about living your best life and about tolerance and acceptance, and while the ending might feel like it’s creeping towards a fairy tale reconciliation, there’s plenty of bite to consider, too.

The author’s introduction to this, his third novel, makes it clear that he has lived some of the experiences of his character:

The icing on the Muslim cake is that I’m also gay. For as long as I can remember, I have felt like a contradiction, coming from a religion and culture that isn’t exactly known for being friendly towards gay people. As a result, I kept those sides of my identity separate … This book is me tearing down that wall and pulling up the curtains … the kind of story I have always been afraid to write, but after a life-changing summer experience, it was the only story that I could write.

However, he also makes it clear that although there is a dramatic coming-out story and a Muslim family in an interrogation room, it’s a “Trojan Horse” of diversity, offering a view of “a Muslim family defying the stereotype and proving that they love their son”.

(He’s clear in the novel that it’s their culture rather than the religion that make Amir’s family resistant to the truth about his sexuality, and his resistance to telling them: “It’s an American thing. It’s part of their culture, Not ours”.)

Amir runs away just before graduation, but he’s a decent lad and uses money he’s earned (slightly illegitimately); he tries to be decent throughout the novel, while getting into a few messes in the new gay scene he finds in Rome. Home means all sorts of things here, and making friends with another Iranian guy, Jahan, excites and roots him. In the end, it’s the tradition of Persian storytelling that Amir foregrounds:

 

I’m tired of being quiet about who I am. Iranian people aren’t quiet. We’re storytellers. Jahan says we have a tradition of oral storytelling. That’s what I’ve been doing in here, isn’t it? Telling you my story.

I really loved how Amir’s younger sister, Soraya, is the one who uses her intelligence and her ability to trick their mum into giving her lifts to spurious meetups to track down details of Amir’s life, work out what happened and then track him down while their parents are flapping and phoning again and again. We hear from all the family in their interrogation rooms and finally from one other character in a masterful move that shows Ahmadi’s technical competence in this fun novel with a dark heart concealing a brighter one.

Thank  you to Hot Key Books for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.