Book Review: “Darius the Great is Not Okay” by Adib Khorram

Blurb & Info

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.

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Publisher: Dial Books

Series: Darius the Great #1

Pages: 316

Review

This is one of the best YA books dealing with the stigma surrounding depression and depression medication that I have ever read. I wish I had read this when I was a teenager. It’s also very ironic that almost immediately upon reaching the end of the book I learned that the pharmacy had managed to mix up my anti-depressant refill request, and it took a while to fix that fiasco. I was off my medication for almost a week and a half, and oh man did it mess with me. It was… a bad time.

Writing about depression in a YA novel is hard, because depression isn’t a clear-cut issue; both environmental and neurochemical factors contribute to depression, it manifests in different ways for different people, and there is no cure — if you have depression, it can lessen (or strengthen) over time, and the most you can do is learn to manage it. In Darius the Great is Not Okay, Khorram was honest about how people in Iran have very different views than Americans on the issue of mental illness. He didn’t shy away from how Darius was made to feel ashamed of the fact that he took pills to manage his depression, which some people might find triggering. I confess, I was worried that Khorram would take the all-too-common route of denouncing medication in favor of just being a happier person (as if that’s possible), but he managed the balance of showing how lifestyle changes can lessen depression and make a big impact, but that the depression itself won’t magically go away. It felt incredibly real yet also incredibly hopeful, and I absolutely loved it.

I really connected with Darius over the issue of mental illness, but I found him to be an amazingly relatable protagonist in other areas as well. At age 23 I had managed to mostly forget the sheer existential agony of being a teenager (or perhaps just being in high school surrounded by other teenagers), but Darius’ narration made it all come rushing back. It feels so genuine to the teenage experience.

Khorram writes Darius with a first person limited perspective (the book follows no other viewpoints), and his voice is very unique. He is geeky, and his thought processes are littered with metaphors from The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, but these metaphors are written in such a way that they don’t detract from the story if you’re not familiar with them. Darius weaves childhood memories, real-time observations of his present surroundings, and musings/fears about the future into the narration in a smooth, seamless way. I felt like I was reading someone’s diary rather than a fictional book.

The characters are amazing. The family dynamic is very well-developed and complex, but easy to follow, and I liked how Darius’ relationships with various family members changed as he learned more about them. And Sohrab… Sohrab was such a perfect friend. It is impossible to describe how wonderful that relationship is for Darius, so I won’t try.

Finally, I can’t speak to Darius’ experience as being half American and half Persian, since that isn’t my experience, but the conflict of identity and lack of belonging that Darius feels was written in such a way that I immediately understood and empathized with it. This is a great book. I laughed at some parts, and I cried at others, and I was really, really invested the whole way through. I would recommend this book in a heartbeat to anyone who asked.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5


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