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.
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I unfortunately went into this book with an already negative viewpoint as the author had twisted the words of a reviewer I personally know and attacked them on social media. However, I decided to push on anyway and pick this one up, more out of curiosity than anything.
The story follows Amir, who is 18 years old and earns money by writing Wiki articles for payment. When he is blackmailed with a photo of him kissing another boy, he uses his money to escape to Italy, where he befriends a group of older, gay men. This in itself felt problematic and somewhat predator-ish, how he was very quickly taken under the wing of these men, even living with one of them for a while and being made to feel uncomfortable by another, which appears to not change how his friends feel about this man at all, and has no negative impact on him. Even any other side characters were one-dimensional and unimaginative.
I wish I could say I enjoyed it other than that, but I’m far from done yet. As pointed out by other reviewers, this book does not take the opportunity to fully represent and discuss Muslim culture. Although the main character is Muslim himself, and makes it very plain that his sexuality would be a problem for his family due to their religion, this is the point in which the discussion of religion stops. Rather than feeling like I learned more about Muslim culture, I was left questioning whether Amir or his family even followed any Muslim practices as they are not at all mentioned in the narrative.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the problems for me. Although I adored the setting in Italy, Italian culture was very much stereotyped, full of pizza, pasta and Vespas. I’ve not visited Italy myself, but I’m damn sure there is more to it than that. I also want to bring up the subject of how panic attacks were represented, which, having suffered from panic attacks myself luckily only a couple of times in my life, felt completely unrealistic to me. Amir had a seemingly normal conversation with a guy in a bookshop, in which he seemed perhaps a little lovestruck. He then went back to his apartment and lay down, in which I thought ‘oh, he’s tired/going to have a nap’, and then proceeded to say how bad his panic attack had been. Now, I completely understand how different people experience panic attacks differently, but I was so disappointed by how this was represented. I had no idea Amir had had a panic attack, because he displayed no common symptoms. It felt like a missed chance to explain to the reader how a panic attack may feel, completely missing the mark for me.
That being said, I was intrigued by this book and absolutely sped through it, wanting to know what would happen next. Despite Italy being stereotypical, it made for a beautiful setting and I enjoyed the descriptions of the architecture and surroundings. Other than finding him vulnerable and frustrating, I liked Amir as a main character and sympathised with him. If this book didn’t have so many damn problems, I even might have enjoyed it. *sigh*
2 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽