Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Publisher: Dial Books (PenguinTeen)
Release Date: August 28, 2018
Summary: Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
*Received ARC through Bookish First*
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Darius The Great Is Not Okay is a deeply moving and character-driven YA Contemporary! Darius finds himself unsure of where he fits in, but a family trip to Iran allows him to connect more to his heritage, family, and make a new friend and allow him to figure out a space where he fits in! Khorram’s moving debut discusses family, friendship, mental health, & so much more!
You know when you read a book (especially YA Contemporary) and feel you can understand and sense the characters come to life throughout the story? That was definitely what Darius The Great Is Not Okay was for me!
Darius Kellner hasn’t exactly found the perfect place to fit in at school or home. So when his parents announce he and his little sister Laleh will be visiting their mother’s parents in Iran during his spring break, he isn’t sure what to expect.
As it turns out they are visiting because Darius & Laleh’s grandfather is ill (he has a tumor), and with their mother not having visited in years, it becomes a rather sudden trip.
Having only seen his grandparents through video calls, Darius isn’t entirely sure he can fit in during his trip to Iran, even though he knows he’ll be surrounded by family.
As his parents and Laleh seem to be fitting in, Darius is trying his best to carve the space for himself.
Throughout his trip he not only connects with the family he’s never fully known, but learns more about his 1/2 Iranian heritage and even meets a local friend of the family, Sohrab.
While he struggles to find his place, Sohrab becomes Darius’s best friend and through their friendship, he begins to feel a sense of belonging (though it does take time).
There’s so much I can’t really put into words about this book! What resonated a lot with me the most, was the trip itself Darius & his family took to visit their other relatives.
Having been fortunate enough to visit the country where my parents grew up quite a few times, I really resonated with Khorram’s message about the importance of knowing your cultural heritage and overall how a trip like that just means so much.
Not only do I see beloved relatives I sadly don’t see too often, but it allows me to take a step back from the hectic day-to-day life back home and just explore, learn more about my cultural background each time I visit, & also relax + spend it with family.
Khorram’s debut focuses so much on the relationships we have with our friends, family, and how each dynamic can mean something different for a person. For example, Darius struggles so much with wanting to have support & in general, feel approved by his father.
Because of that, we see how the dynamic between Darius and his father is rather complicated (even when it comes to their Star Trek marathons) and how it has impacted Darius in many ways (from his confidence, to the love/acceptance he wants from his family).
Their dynamic alongside Darius & Sohrab’s is given so much page time and we see how these different relationships allow Darius to grow and question his place with his family, identity, etc. But also get a better understanding of who he is & wants to be.
Sohrab makes Darius feel more at home as they both understand that their friendship doesn’t always require talking. Sohrab asks Darius to join him in his games of soccer with other local teens, gifts him a soccer jersey, lets him borrow his cleats, and is just there to hang out with him. Though Darius is unsure of their friendship at first, I loved seeing how it allowed him to find a sense of belonging with Sohrab and open up in a different way.
I loved their friendship so much! There’s so much unsaid between them, but it is done in a way where Darius (as does the reader) knows that Sohrab really understands and accepts Darius for who he is, and respects how much Darius remains true to himself.
Because Darius works at a tea shop, Tea Haven, and mentions that tea is a big part of his Persian culture, I loved seeing how he used his knowledge + tea making skills, to connect with his grandmother & grandfather as the story progressed.
There’s also a discussion on mental health as we explore depression that both Darius and his father have. It was such an in-depth/explored element of the story and you see how depression has also impacted Darius and his view of the world.
The first person POV writing really allows us to understand Darius, his world, and the depth to him as a character! The themes, connections between family and friends, exploration of Iranian culture, all are explored in such a unique way by following Darius’s POV!
As for the inclusive representation, there is Iranian + Persian rep. seen through Darius’s family in Iran, his mother, and Javaneh Esfahani, a classmate that Darius sits with at lunch (Persian-American). There is also biracial representation (1/2 Persian & white) as seen with Darius & his sister Laleh. Though its not explicitly stated, we see there may be gay rep., as seen through Darius (alongside depression & fat rep).
Another part of Darius The Great Is Not Okay that also resonated with me was the bond we see that has shifted between Darius’s mother & her father ( it reminded me so much of my grandfather). Darius’s Babou, has a tumor and because of that throughout the novel Darius sees how different he is (compared to the stories Darius has heard from his mother & the grandfather he’d spoken with through video chats).
Additionally, we have moments throughout where we see Darius’s grandfather’s illness impact his mother so incredibly much. I resonated with those moments a lot and my heart broke for Darius’s mother (knowing how close they were & seeing how his illness was changing him).
I did take off a star because at times within the dialogue (at least in the ARC) I found lines and pauses a bit overused (for ex. I did find Darius said “um” many times throughout the book. Even throughout the same page). Because of that, I found the repetitiveness of that word really took away from what it symbolized (in my opinion), because we are already aware that Darius has difficulty making his way into conversation or connecting with others in an unfamiliar social setting, etc.
So, the overuse of that word didn’t really make the writing flow as evenly as it could have.
Additionally, this isn’t really a bad thing, but because this novel is very character-driven, some elements of the plot and setting do feel a bit underdeveloped.
Overall though, this is such a powerfully character-driven novel and you really see Darius change and slowly start to find his place in the world.
Character-development, themes of family, friendship, and especially, acceptance of ones-self are such important elements to the story that truly make it such an impactful read! The depth to this novel from its characters, the writing, and development to the story, make Darius The Great Is Not Okay, a must read YA Contemporary & debut!