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How It All Blew Up
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How It All Blew Up
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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...
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...
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  • 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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Interrogation Room 37

    Amir

    First, let me get one thing straight: I’m not a terrorist. I’m gay. I can see from the look on your face that you’re skeptical, and I get it. People like me aren’t supposed to exist, let alone make an admission like that in a situation like this. But I assure you, I’m real. I’m here. I’m Iranian. And I’m gay. I just needed to get that off my chest before we started, since you asked why my family and I were fighting on that plane. It had nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with me.

    Okay, I’ll assume from the way you’re clearing your throat that I should probably stick to the questions. Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.

    My name is Amir Azadi. I’m eighteen years old.

    I was in Rome for about a month. Yes, like Italy. I don’t know exactly how many days I was there.

    I lived in multiple apartments in Rome. I can get you the addresses if you’d like. My family found me in the Italian countryside yesterday. I willingly went back with them. I can’t really say why—it happened so fast—and then we fought on the plane, which is, I guess, why I’m in here.

    It was such a huge whirlwind of emotions that I didn’t even notice when the flight attendants started pulling the four of us apart. They put us in separate parts of the plane. One of them was actually really kind to me. “Family can take a while,” he said as he buckled me into a pull-down seat in the aircraft kitchen. He had an earring in his nose. Slick blond hair. “Trust me, kid, we’ve all been there.” He even let me have one of those snack packs with the hummus and pita chips, which was nice, considering I was being detained.

    As soon as we landed, Customs and Border Protection took our passports and escorted us from the plane to a holding room in the airport. Soraya—my little sister—kept asking what was going on, and my mom kept telling her to be quiet.

    They told us to sit and wait until our names were called. We were glued to those chairs. Soraya took out her phone and one of the officers barked at her to turn it off. My mom snatched it from her hand. After what felt like forever, one of the male officers entered the room and looked sternly at my dad. “Mr. Azadi. Please come with me.” My dad didn’t ask any questions. He just went. Then a minute later, I got pulled into this room.

    Was I in touch with any “organizations” while I was in Rome? Oh God. You must think I ran away to join ISIS, don’t you? You probably think they recruited me to their Italian satellite office. Sir, I don’t mean to belittle the evils of the world, but those guys would never take a fruit like me.

    I’m sorry we scared all those people on that plane, I really am. I wish I hadn’t exploded at my parents like that, all spit and tears and hysteria, on an airplane. Especially being, you know. Of a certain complexion. But at the end of the day, I’d much rather be in this airport interrogation room than back in the closet.

    You asked me why we were fighting, sir, and to answer that question, I’ll have to start at the very beginning.

     

    Ten Months Ago

    It was the first day of school, and I was already sweating in my seat. As if it wasn’t torture enough to sit through transfer orientation, the classroom was as hot as an oven. Figures I move farther south of the Mason-Dixon line and the air...

Reviews-

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from August 1, 2020

    Gr 9 Up-"First let me get one thing straight: I'm not a terrorist. I'm gay." So begins this fast-paced coming out/coming-of-age/coming home story. Amir Azadi keeps a mental scorecard weighing the odds of rejection if his parents learn he's gay. He's decided to wait until college to start real life. Then the blackmail starts, and suddenly Amir has skipped graduation and hopped a plane to Rome. This isn't the full plot-it's barely the premise, and the whole story is told via monologue: The answers given by Amir and his family during questioning by Customs and Border Protection. Readers must accept that the airport interrogation is not where the drama lies either, but rather a clever frame, contrasting the unspoken and serious assumptions that put Amir's family in airport jail with the idiosyncratic, sometimes ridiculous, and always complex truths of who they really are. The interview transcripts cover Amir's arrival in Italy, his adoption by a group of gay men in their thirties, and the series of poor romantic decisions that immediately precede his return. Among these friends is Jahan, also of Iranian descent, who awards Amir points every time he learns about gay icons or queer culture. As Amir's Persian and gay identities start to feel like an asset, he's no longer willing to hide who he is. VERDICT A funny and propulsive read, nuanced and full of heart.-Miriam DesHarnais, Towson Univ., Baltimore

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2020
    As an Iranian American Muslim teen, Amir Azadi has long pondered what it would be like to come out to his parents. In fact, he keeps a mental tally of all the positive and negative comments his parents make about gay people. But everything comes crashing down when school bullies photograph Amir kissing Jackson, the football player he's been secretly dating. They give Amir an ultimatum: $1,000 in hush money or they will show his parents the photo. On the brink of emotional collapse, Amir runs away, landing in Rome, where he meets Jahan, a proudly gay Iranian/Dominican man, and his eclectic friends. Amir embraces the newfound freedom to be himself and experience the joys of gay culture and community. But as his family desperately searches for him and relationships with his new friends become complicated, he finds himself missing home and feels the fear of being out ebb away. The story moves back and forth in time between these events and the airport interrogation room where, following a family altercation on the plane home, Amir tells his coming-out story to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. The narrative structure will keep readers riveted as they try to piece together events. Ahmadi's writing is gripping, taking readers through the myriad emotions a gay Muslim teen experiences growing up in a country whose government is looking for an excuse to demonize Muslims. A story of coming out and coming-of-age in a post-9/11 world. (Fiction. 14-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2020
    Grades 9-12 Iranian American Amir is in crisis. The deeply closeted 18-year-old is being blackmailed for thousands of dollars by a bully in his high school threatening to out Amir to his parents. When the bully then threatens to do the deed during their graduation ceremony, Amir flees?first to New York and then to Rome. Amir's fear is exacerbated by his belief that being Iranian and gay is as incompatible as Amish culture and Apple products. Keeping his whereabouts a secret, Amir is fortunate to make gay friends quickly, friends who become his surrogate family. But what will happen if his real family learns where he is? Ahmadi, who is himself Iranian American, does an excellent job of taking readers into a culture that is much less than friendly to gays while creating a relatable circle of new friends who care about and support Amir. A fully realized, deeply sympathetic character, Amir tells his own story in the first person voice, in the tradition of Iranian storytellers. The result is compelling.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 19, 2020
    To avoid being outed as gay to his conservative Muslim parents, Iranian American Amir Azadi, 18, skips his high school graduation and impulsively flees to Rome, embarking on a month of parties, poetry, and dreamy crushes. Once in Italy, Amir befriends a close-knit group of young gay men, including effervescent Jahan, an Iranian-Dominican poet who helps Amir envision how he can proudly live as his whole self. Eventually, Amir must return to America, and after a family argument about Amir’s sexuality escalates on the plane, the visibly Muslim Azadi family is temporarily detained. Amir’s first-person narrative is framed by transcripts of each family member’s interrogation at the airport, enabling Ahmadi (Girl Gone Viral) to switch perspectives and expand the novel’s emotional landscape. This moving and well-written coming-of-age novel renders how Amir’s acceptance of his sexuality strengthens his resolve to reconcile his fragmented self and live in his full truth. Ages 14–up.

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