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.
Every year, I find myself immensely grateful to have found an understated gem that tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel things. Do note that I can be a bit of a stone-cold bish at times. This year, I found myself completely immersed in Darius the Great is Not Okay and even as I am writing this review after reading it, I can’t stop thinking about this moving tale of identity, family and love.
Darius the Great is Not Okay follows the story of Darius Kellner, a biracial teen who has always been the butt of all jokes, no thanks to his school bullies. Though he is half-Persian, the only time Darius has ever met his family in Iran is over Skype and he barely understands Persian beyond food names. Then, Darius finds himself travelling across the globe to Iran for the first time in his life, to meet his ailing grandfather and soon, Darius feels totally out of place as he finds it rather difficult to embrace his Persian roots.
He was pretty sure that being in Iran wouldn’t be as fun as he expected, that is, until he meets Sohrab, his grandparents’ neighbour and the son of his mum’s childhood friend. In Sohrab, Darius finds a confidant and someone who he is comfortable enough to connect with.
One of the reasons I found Darius the Great is Not Okay to be such a compelling and riveting read is because it carries the message that it is okay to be not okay. The book discusses mental illness aptly, in which Darius and his father, Stephen, both have depression and I thought that the mental illness representation in the book was well-written as it did shed light on the struggles of people with depression.
It goes without saying that Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay is a heartfelt novel about a biracial teen who discovers more about his family and identity as a Persian during his family trip to Iran. It tackles some important issues such as racial identity, family values and ultimately, self-acceptance.
I went into Darius the Great is Not Okay, expecting it to be a male/male romance but I am sad to report that there was barely any romantic sparks between Darius and Sohrab. Although it might have been implied at some parts of the book, but ultimately, the story focused more on their friendship. Which is totally fine, when I think about it because the friendship between Darius and Sohrab.
In retrospect, I think the story did focus more on the homosocial aspect of their friendship, which is totally fine because I felt like Adib Khorram really captured the essence of a wonderful friendship between two boys. Even though it was hinted at times, rather implicitly, that things were a little bit more than platonic. The characters are multi-faceted and nuanced, it was lovely to read about family dynamics and the strengthening of familial ties between Darius and his family in Iran did really enrich the reading experience of Darius the Great is Not Okay.