Book Review: Darius the Great is Not Okay

darius the great is not okayDarius the Great is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram
Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
314 pages
Published August 2018

This novel got a lot of hype before and after its release – and it deserves it. It has great minority representation, from Persian (and bi-racial!) to Zoroastrian and Baha’i, to clinical depression and male friendship. You could also read gay and/or asexual into it, but that’s not explicitly mentioned. Romantic love is just never addressed; perhaps because the story just doesn’t involve it, but you could definitely read the main character as ace.

Darius is a great main character. He’s funny, self-deprecating, and complex. He has clinical depression, is medicated for it, and can sometimes tell when it’s the depression making him think a certain way, but sometimes he can’t. He’s biracial, visiting Iran and his mother’s Persian family for the first time, and adjusting to Persian social norms and traditions while trying not to lose sight of his American life. His connection with his father is tenuous and fraught with miscommunication, and lot of the book is spent wrestling with that relationship. His new friend, Sohrab, is a great foil to that, as his father is completely absent from his life, having been arrested and thrown in jail prior to the start of the story, largely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and being part of a minority religion.

There are so many small things touched on this book – suspicion at customs when flying through, bullying at school for being Persian, not speaking his family’s language because his mother didn’t teach it to him (and feeling cut off because of it) – all little things that a lot of immigrant children deal with.

Aside from the cultural things the book addresses, there’s also the mental health aspect. Both Darius and his father have clinical depression, and there’s stigma attached to having the diagnosis, and to taking pills for it. We see how their mental states affects their relationship with each other and with the rest of their family, and it’s quite powerful. The author talks about having clinical depression in an afterword, and includes some resources that helped him. This is an #ownvoices novel in more ways than one, and it really shows. Excellent book.

From the cover of Darius the Great is Not Okay:

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian – half, his mom’s side – and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush – the original Farsi version of his name – and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough – then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay. 

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