Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Book Review: "Darius the Great Is Not Okay" by Adib Khorram

What an enjoyable, sweet, and special book!

"What kind of name is Darius Grover Kellner? It was like I was destined to be a target."

Darius Kellner calls himself a "Fractional Persian"—his mother is Persian, and he refers to his blonde, Teutonic father as the Übermensch. But he feels like he doesn't quite fit into either world. He looks like his mother but never really learned to speak Farsi (although his younger sister did), and while he and his father share a love of Star Trek, it seems like mostly Darius disappoints his father, because he's not more athletic, not in better shape, not the Übermensch-in-training he knows his father wants.

The other thing that Darius and his father share is depression, although both manage it through medication. But when Darius gets sad when the more popular kids in high school (aka the "Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy") pick on him or play pranks with him as the subject, when his father disapproves of Darius' in-depth interest in fancy teas (not the factory-made stuff he sells at his part-time job), or when his father criticizes his hair or his eating habits, it seems like his father forgets that Darius has the same problem, which depresses him even further.

But when his family heads to Iran to visit Darius' grandparents (his first trip to his ancestral home), he hopes that things will be different. While he absolutely loves spending time with his grandmother, he feels ill-at-ease around his grandfather, who is terminally ill. He feels his grandfather looks at him as disapprovingly as his father, especially when he learns Darius takes medicine for depression. Plus, he doesn't speak Farsi, and his younger sister has no problem communicating with everyone.

Everything changes when Darius meets Sohrab, the son of friends of his grandparents. With Sohrab, Darius plays soccer (and enjoys it for the first time), visits various historical landmarks and tourist attractions in the area, and learns about both his heritage and his grandparents, who have been a part of Sohrab's life as long as he can remember. More than that, however, Darius finds he can confide in Sohrab and share the things that sadden him or cause him to feel inadequate, and he knows not only does Sohrab listen, but he identifies with the feelings as well.

"The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart."

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is a book about feeling like you don't fit in, and how good it feels when you finally click with someone who helps you realize your self-worth. It's about the assumptions we make which cause us emotional pain, and how if we only expressed our feelings, we'd save ourselves so much anxiety. It's also a book about what it's like to live with depression, and how it can impact everything we do and feel, as well as our relationships.

This is such a special book. It is so full of heart and the characters are so memorable. I was utterly hooked on this book from start to finish, and unbelievably, read the entire book in one day (and I worked, too). Adib Khorram does such a fantastic job telling a simple yet poignant, rich story, and he makes you feel the same emotions the characters do. I enjoyed this book so much I am willing to overlook my one pet peeve, which is that nearly every sentence Darius said started with, "Um." I know this is probably accurate for teenage boys, but it got a little monotonous after a while.

I love books that leave me with a smile on my face. Darius the Great Is Not Okay is definitely one of those. I can't wait to see what's next for Khorram—if this is what he did in his debut, the sky's the limit!

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