"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

16 July 2018

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great is Not Okay. Penguin, 2018.

Darius is a socially awkward Trekkie (or Trekker, if you're picky). He doesn't have a lot of friends at school and is obsessed with tea, even though he works in a Teavana-esque store that sells a lot of "tea," which is mostly sugar. Darius and his family go to Iran to visit his maternal grandparents as his grandfather is dying of a brain tumor. This will be Darius's first time in Iran, and he's nervous. His Farsi isn't nearly as good as his younger sister's, and he has been warned that his extended family will not understand his need to take medication to control his depression. While in Iran, Darius learns more about his heritage and befriends the neighbor boy; if he had stayed longer, perhaps they would have been more than friends.

Darius has a lot of hang-ups: he feels like his father doesn't approve of him because he isn't a jock and because he hasn't been able to control his medication-derived weight gain; he is frequently teased at school and his bullies even follow him to his job; he feels invisible in his own family because his little sister's big personality steals the spotlight. It's super awkward for him at first in Iran because his Farsi isn't very good and many of his relatives don't speak English super well, so he's sort of left out. Then he meets Sohrab. Sohrab is a neighbor boy about his same age, and they become friends quickly. Sohrab invites Darius to play soccer and speaks up for him when he won't speak up for himself. When his family finally leaves Iran to return to the United States, Darius is sad to be leaving Sohrab and sad to be leaving a family that feels more real to him than they had when he only knew them via Skype.

I found this book to be very readable. Darius is an awkward teenage boy, and this book reads true to that voice. He refers to his bullies as the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy, talks about paying attention to various Iranian social cues, and relishes the time he spends watching Star Trek with his dad. Darius doesn't understand why his dad is so hard on him, and he feels like he is constantly disappointing his dad. All of these things would make this book very relatable for many teens. I love the addition of Persian culture and the trip to Iran, and for most of my patrons, this will be a window into a world they've never visited.

For those wondering about the LGBT content: Darius's father has two moms, and it's hinted in the book that Darius might be gay, although that's not something he's quite ready to process yet. His friendship with Sohrab certainly appears to be blossoming into something more before he has to return to the States.

This book definitely fits into the "awkward teen without backbone is having troubles, then grows a backbone and starts speaking for himself and standing up for himself and things are a bit better" category of books, which are ones my teen patrons love, so I can easily recommend this title.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: The bullies at Darius's school call him D-bag and a few other savory terms; the bullies in Iran mock Darius because he is uncircumcised (and they see this in the post-soccer shower room). Darius's extended family doesn't understand his need to medicate for his depression and say things like, "Just don't be so sad," which could be problematic to some readers.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Jack of Hearts (and other parts); Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel; Jaya and Rasa

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

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