How It All Blew Up

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
How It All Blew Up Book Poster Image
Funny tale of Muslim teen's coming-of-age and coming-out.

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Kids say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive messages.

Educational Value

The story offers a lively look at Rome as Amir explores everything from gelato shops to the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

Positive Messages

Shows that even seemingly insurmountable conflicts and misunderstandings between family members can be resolved if everyone will be open and honest about their feelings.

Positive Role Models

Amir is smart and enterprising (making money editing Wikipedia pages), but he also runs away rather than giving his parents a chance to accept his coming out. While his diverse set of friends in Rome really tries to look out for Amir by offering him (almost always) good advice, giving him a place to live when he first arrives, tutoring him in Italian, and showing him around the city, they also get drunk with him and take him along to sometimes wild parties.


Brief references to a boy who's always beating up other boys and a saint who was skinned alive and beheaded.


There's kissing, making out, and a scene involving kissing and pulling off pants. Two characters have a complicated sexually open relationship.


Characters regularly use profanity ("f—k,"s—t," "a—hole," "Jesus," "bastard").


The story is filled with references to all kinds of products, stores, and destinations (Cheerios, Airbnb, Apple, Disney World, Costco), as well as TV shows (Ru Paul's Drag Race), books (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Turtles All the Way Down), and movies (Jumanji).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The drinking age in Italy is 18 and Amir regularly drinks and gets drunk with his friends. A character smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that as Arvin Ahmadi's How It All Blew Up begins, 18-year-old Iranian American Amir Azadi is trying to explain to a United States Customs and Border Protection officer that he's not a terrorist, just a teen who's been afraid to tell his parents that he's gay. His story unfolds in flashbacks as he tells the officer about a secret first boyfriend at his high school, being blackmailed by fellow students, his impulsive decision to run off to Rome, the older gay friends he meets there, and the family argument on the plane home from Italy that had landed him, his parents, and his sister in interrogation rooms. Characters regularly use profanity ("f—k,"s—t," "a—hole," "bastard") and Amir and his friends do a good deal of drinking and partying in Rome. There's kissing, making out, and a scene involving kissing and pulling off pants. Two characters have a complicated sexually open relationship.


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Teen, 13 years old Written byjimthepickle October 2, 2020

What's the story?

HOW IT ALL BLEW UP begins in Interrogation Room 37 at a U.S. airport. A loud family argument on a flight from Italy to the United States is serious enough that 18-year-old Iranian American Amir Azadi, his parents, and 13-year-old sister get pulled apart and separated by flight attendants. As soon as the plane lands, their passports are taken, and they're now being questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers. The fight, Amir explains to an officer, had nothing to do with terrorism (he was not in Rome to join ISIS) and everything to do with the fact that he's gay and been afraid to come out to his parents. His story, he tells the officer, begins 10 months ago as he was starting his senior year at a new high school. The "buddy" assigned to show him around is a handsome football player who's also deep in the closet. They begin what they think is a secret relationship, but two students take a picture of them kissing and demand $1,000 not to tell Amir's parents. After he pays and tone of them demands even more before graduation, panicked Amir impulsively takes a plane to New York City and then to Rome. Alone and knowing no one, he's befriended by a bookstore clerk who introduces him to Jahan, a Persian/Dominican bartender/poet. It's not long before Amir becomes part of Jahan's group of young gay men who tutor him in Italian, introduce him into their world of poetry and art, and take him along to parties (some wild) and nights out at local bars. But after only a month, his family discovers his whereabouts and arrive to take him home -- and hope to repair their broken relationship.

Is it any good?

This often funny coming-of-age (and coming out) novel has a serious storyline about how secrets and fear can break apart even the most loving, supportive family. While the Amir family in How It All Blew Up is Muslim, his parents' problems with homosexuality are presented as cultural rather than religious, making it easy for readers from a wide range of backgrounds to identify with the conflict between them. A note at the front of the book says this is "a story based on true events."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Amir's decision in How It All Blew Up to run off to Rome. What makes someone decide to run away from a problem rather than standing up and confronting it? What lessons did you learn when you didn't run away from a problem?

  • If you found yourself alone in a country where you knew no one and didn't speak the language, would you be able to get along as successfully as Amir? How would you deal with the language issue?

  • How easy or difficult is it for LGBTQ+ students in your school to come out to friends and family? What coudl make it easier?

Book details

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