Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Iranian on his mother's side and white on his father's, high school sophomore Darius Kellner is a boy who feels caught between two worlds and who believes he doesn't fit into either. At a school with a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, Darius is the constant target of two school bullies who like to make fun of his name and refer to him as a terrorist. At home, Darius is convinced he's a constant disappointment to his father, with whom he has only two things in common - a love of Star Trek and a history of clinical depression.

When it is discovered that Darius' grandfather in Iran has a incurable brain tumor, the Kellner family decides to take some time to visit his mother's family in Yadz, Iran. But after a thirteen hour trip, Darius arrives at his grandparents home feeling like he once again doesn't fit in - he doesn't feel Persian enough and can't even speak Farsi very well, plus he takes medication every day and feels his grandfather's disapproval about it.

When his grandfather introduces him to Sohrab, Darius becomes Darioush, his name in Persian, and for once, he begins to feel some pride in his name, rather than the shame he felt at school. Sohrab and Darius become fast friends, playing soccer with other boys in the neighborhood, sightseeing both in Yadz and it's surrounding area, learning to play Rook, a Persian card game that even Darius' father knows how to play, and celebrating the Persian New Year Nowruz with other friends and relatives all open a new world to Darius, a world in which he begins to feel a part of. With Sohrab's help, Darius begins to bee like he fits in somewhere, but will his new found confidence about who he is carrying over when he returns home to Portland, and goes back to school?

Quite simply, Darius the Great Is Not Okay is a wonderful coming of age novel that really captures what it is like to be what Darius calls a "fractional Persian." And it is also an honest portrayal of a teen living with clinical depression.

Darius is one of the more interesting characters I've encountered in my reading lately. He knows his limitations - he's a little overweight, athletics is not really his thing, he'll probably never speak fluent Farsi. Yet, he is a wonderful older brother to his sister Laleh, caring and protective of her, he is able to sense when she is going to have a meltdown and knows exactly how to divert her from it, and he has an interest in tea, way beyond just liking it. In fact, he is also a tea purist and enthusiast, even working part time in a specialty tea shop. Tea and its rituals, the reader learns, are an important part of Middle Eastern life.

No only has Khorram written an eminently readable novel with a charming, if flawed main character, he has managed to include a lot of information about Iran and the Iranian people, including the way holidays are celebrated, different food that is enjoyed (with many mouth watering descriptions), what life is like for the average Iranian person and their family. The cultural and limited historical aspects of this novel are every bit as fascinating as Darius' coming of age.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay has all the usual tropes of a good Middle Grade/Young Adult novel, including friendship, loyalty, importance of family and finding one's place in the world, and gives them a fresh new look. Don't miss this novel!

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers

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