Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Book Review: "Darius the Great Deserves Better" by Adib Khorram

Adib Khorram's new novel, Darius the Great Deserves Better, is a beautiful, heartwarming, and emotional story about family, friends, love, identity, sexuality, mental health, self-esteem...and tea. Lots of tea.

Darius Kellner, the protagonist of Khorram's terrific Darius the Great is Not Okay, returns, and it is so good to have him back. When the novel opens, things are going well for Darius. He has a boyfriend, Landon, an internship at a fancy tea shop, he plays on his school's varsity soccer team, and he's even developing a strong friendship with Chip, one of his teammates, who used to bully him. He also has been keeping in touch with Sohrab, his best friend that he met when his family visited Iran.

But even though he should be happy, things keep causing him to feel unsettled. His dad has to travel a lot for business and he seems to be struggling emotionally, his sister is having trouble at school, he's still getting bullied by his nemesis, Trent, and sometimes he just worries that everything is going to come crashing down.

While Darius likes Landon a lot, he isn't sure he's ready to take their relationship to the next step, so he's worried Landon may want to end things. And as much as he loves working at the tea shop, he just doesn't know if he'll ever get the hang of knowing the right things to look for when tasting teas. It's enough to keep his depression at the forefront of his mind.

Darius needs support and love, but his needs come at a time when his family is in the midst of stressful and sad situations, too. With his father out of town, his mother working long hours, and his grandmothers staying with the family (and he's not even sure if they like him), Darius keeps reaching out to Sohrab, but even Sohrab isn't available. Suddenly he starts relying a little more on Chip, but he can't quite figure Chip out all the time, which is unsettling, too. It's a lot for one teenager to deal with!

I love the vulnerability that Khorram gives Darius, and I definitely identified with many of the emotions he felt throughout the book. I've been in the place where you should be happy but your anxiety that things might suddenly change, or your worry that people really don't feel the way you think they do about you, overtakes you. When you couple that with familial discord and trying to become comfortable with your sexuality and your first relationship, it's enough to overwhelm anyone, and Khorram shows you both the good and troubled sides of Darius' personality.

I enjoyed Darius the Great Deserves Better so much. It's such a beautifully told, engaging, emotional story, but Darius is so likeable that you can't help but root for him and those around him. There's so much to think about in this book, and Khorram never gets too heavy-handed or creates too much unnecessary drama. While as in real life, so much angst could be avoided if people would just communicate with one another, I think Darius' occasional inertia was true to his character.

Khorram said he wrote a sequel because he felt as if Darius had more to say. I think he still does, and I hope that a third book is out there somewhere on the horizon. But regardless, I'd read whatever he writes.

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