Published by Dial Books on August 28, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Own Voices
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Darius doesn't think he'll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.
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 understands 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.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay contains everything I love in contemporary books – a book about finding your own heritage, combating the stigma of mental illness, learning about your family and discovering a new friendship. Here’s 5 things you’ll find in Darius the Great Is Not Okay:
1. Learning about your own heritage
Back home, Darius feels like he doesn’t fit in because he’s half-Persian. But when his family travels to Iran to visit his grandparents for the first time, he learns about his heritage and how fitting in is about kindness, friendship and acceptance. He also learns about the Persian way of life – playing soccer, learning Persian, and the act of taarofing (taking turns to be polite as a statement). Spending more time with his Babou and Mamou in Iran was the perfect way to learn about his family and about fitting in. I loved learning more about Persian customs and about the way of life in Iran – hearing about their customs, learning about their food and seeing the family values in action.
2. Depression doesn’t need a reason
The thing about Darius, is that he also suffers from depression. It’s been passed down from his dad, and he’s forced to deal with it when in Iran, where they don’t really understand mental illness. When asked why he takes medication for it, Darius states factually – that his brain doesn’t make the right chemicals to deal with it. It’s funny seeing a different generation and cultural attitudes just dismiss mental illness as “just being sad” and “learning how to be happy”. This has certainly been my own experience within my family and I’m glad this book confronts this head on. You don’t really need to have an explanation for being clinically depressed. That’s just how it is.
3. Family is a complex thing
I loved the complex family relationships explored here – how Darius never feels like he fits in, he doesn’t feel loved by his dad and feels replaced by his younger sister Laleh (even though he loves her). Despite Laleh being more popular than he is at school, and taking time away from his parents, Darius still adores her and feels guilty about the jealousy that he feels. I also loved how Darius really appreciated the time with his Babou and Mamou, and spending time with them made him understand how much his mum has sacrificed by deciding to leave them for an American.
4. A soft friendship between two boys
There’s also the central friendship between Darius and Sohrab, the Persian boy next door. I actually went into this book thinking there was going to be an LGBT relationship, but this wasn’t the case. What really results is a soft friendship blooming from understanding, standing up for each other, learning to admit your mistakes and also sharing your innermost thoughts with others without judgement. I adored Sohrab and how he was completely earnest with Darius, even though he makes a few mistakes. Sometimes all it takes is something to really, truly understand you and to be on the same wavelength as you, for you to truly belong. And that’s what Sohrab was to Darius.
5. Understanding that you are loved
Darius the Great is Okay is a brilliant book about never fitting in anywhere, about finding your own heritage and finally, learning that you are able to belong and to be loved. Although Darius feels like he never belongs, he’s got depression and doesn’t really feel Iranian, the story arc to how he discovers himself is absolutely beautiful.
It’s a soft, beautiful book about friendship, family, mental illness and Iran and I thought it was so beautiful. Definitely one of my favourite contemporaries of this year!
I listened to this book on audiobook which captured the voice of Darius so perfectly. I loved the Farsi pronunciations and the exchanges between the different characters.
Rating: 5 stars
Trigger warnings: depression, bullying, racism, fat shaming
Darius the Great is Not Okay is available from The Book Depository.