YA Review: How It All Blew Up

Title: How It All Blew Up
Author: Arvin Ahmadi 
Edition: Kindle (ARC)
Rating: 4/5

A clever take on a coming-out story, How It All Blew Up follows eighteen-year-old Amir as he comes to terms with his sexuality, and wonders how to tell his Iranian-American Muslim family that he’s gay. He’s very careful to hide his high-school hook ups with his maybe-boyfriend, but when another student threatens to tell his parents, Amir feels defeated by the blackmail and bullying. Running away to Rome feels like the perfect escape. He’s sure his family will reject him when they discover his secret, and in Rome he’s free to explore his identity without threats and judgement.

The clever twist is the setting for the story. Amir is explaining himself to an immigration official, following an argument with his family on their flight back to the US. His family is also being questioned in neighbouring interrogation rooms, and the events leading up to their detention are narrated by Amir, his parents, and his sister.

Amir is a sympathetic and relatable character. His fears about his family are based on comments they have made, and Amir’s decision not to tell them about his sexuality feels entirely justified. His experiences in Rome are life-affirming and beautifully described, with a cast of characters who take Amir into their social circle and teach him about life, love, and relationships. Rome becomes a character in the book, with descriptions of beautiful buildings, riverside cafes, rooftop parties, and a memorable visit to the Sistine Chapel. His new friends are older and more experienced, but with very different approaches to life and love. There are heartbreaking moments and heartwarming conversations, and in spite of the interrogation-room setting this is a feel-good book.

The story poses questions about family, tolerance, and identity without offering easy answers. Amir’s experiences in Rome give him confidence, but after the final page he still has to negotiate his life at home. There are no magic solutions and no sudden changes of heart, so the story feels real and messy – but hopeful.

This is a gripping, interesting book with a cast of wonderful characters, an engaging story, and some utterly fabulous parties.

How It All Blew Up will be published on September 22nd, is available now for pre-order. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read How It All Blew Up? What did you think of the story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Everless

Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Cover of Everless by Sara Holland.

In Sempera, time is magically bound to the blood of every person, and payment is made in the form of blood iron – days, hours, and years. The rich amass centuries of life while the poor struggle to survive, bleeding themselves to pay for rent and food. Jules and her father used to live at Everless, the grand home of one of the richest families in Sempera. Her father was the blacksmith, and she grew up playing with the sons of the Gerling family. A childhood accident led to the expulsion of the blacksmith and his daughter, and now Jules is worried that her father is bleeding himself to death to pay their debts.

When Jules disobeys her father and takes a servant job at Everless, she attempts to keep her presence a secret. But waiting on the boys she used to play with, and on the nobles who surround their family, she discovers secrets about her past that threaten her safety – and the safety of everyone she cares about.

Everless is an engaging story with a unique and gripping premise. The magical binding of time to blood forces the poor to risk running out of time with every debt they pay, while the rich can drink the time paid to them, and take risks with their lives knowing they have centuries left. Jules is an interesting character – practical, curious, and determined to find out what happened at Everless before she was forced to leave. Her relationships with her father, her childhood friends, and the other servants at Everless are sympathetic and warm. Jules cares about the people around her, and about protecting her family. She doesn’t give up, even when the secrets threaten to unravel the life she has built. She’s headstrong, too – I found myself shouting at the page when she made dangerous choices – but everything she does is rooted in her determination to discover the truth, and protect the people she cares about.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, but the sequel is waiting on my shelf.

Have you read Everless? What did you think of the story? Did you like the setting? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Full disclosure: I did not enjoy Evermore, the second and concluding book in the series, so I will not be reviewing it here.

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Camp

Title: Camp
Author: L. C. Rosen
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

The second YA novel from the author of Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is another sex-positive story of LBGTQ+ teens as they negotiate life, love, and sex for the first time. Randy has been attending Camp Outland every summer for years. It’s the only place where he can be entirely himself alongside his best friends, and he loves performing in each year’s musical production.

But Randy has a problem. He’s fallen for the gorgeous Hudson, but Hudson only has eyes for straight-acting boys. Randy reinvents himself as Del, choses the sports option instead of musical theatre, and sets out to make Hudson fall for him. It’s a daring plan, and Randy’s friends are worried when they see him pretending to be someone he’s not.

In spite of all Randy’s efforts, secrets, and heartbreak, this is a feel-good novel. His relationship with his friends is just as important as his relationship with Hudson, and they are a supportive and inclusive group. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary, and asexual teens work alongside each other to create theatrical productions, sporting events, and memories. They look out for each other, and look after each other, no matter who they are and how they present themselves to the world. Randy is a sympathetic protagonist, and the supporting characters are well drawn, believable, and distinctive.

The book tackles issues of identity, authenticity, and self-discovery in unexpected ways. It champions self-expression and finding out who you are, while sounding a note of caution about looking after yourself in the real world. Not everyone has a supportive family away from Camp Outland, and not everything that happens at camp can happen safely at home. Like Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), this is an inspiring story with an important message about tolerance and expression – for LBGTQ+ teens, and for everyone else.

Have you read Camp? What did you think of the story? Did Randy/Del do the right thing? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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