Every week, Volumes will feature a new review from one of your St Cuthberts classmates. Want to write one of your own? It's easy! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'Book review request' to find out more.
This week, Ava Dilly (Year 10) reviews Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram.
“‘We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss someone.’ I sniffed. ‘Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here.’” To say I went in unprepared would be an understatement. Darius the Great is Not Okay is far from your typical young adult contemporary, with focus on familial connection and mental health hitting the reader in all the most painful places. Published in 2018, Adib Khorram’s beautiful story of figuring out one’s identity in a complex world has something for everyone to connect with.
Darius Kellner, a half-American, half-Persian teen with clinical depression, feels disconnected from his Persian family members and as though he is a disappointment to his hypercritical father. He travels to Iran for the first time to visit his terminally-ill Grandfather, where his life is changed when he befriends a boy named Sohrab, who helps him discover many things about himself he didn’t think were possible.
Darius the Great is Not Okay shares a lot of similarities with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. The importance of connection and relationships is emphasised in both stories, with both main characters initially struggling to form meaningful bonds due to pulling themselves away from others. The two books also highlight how people struggle to feel connected to their culture and the isolation they can experience as a result of this. However, Aristotle and Dante is primarily a love story and Darius focuses more on personal growth. Romance is hinted at but not expanded in this book.
If you’re like me, and have seen this book around but never picked it up, make sure to grab it at the next chance you get. I’m disappointed in myself for waiting this long. Khorram does such an amazing job at portraying mental illness and how it affects an entire family. I loved that this book was written by a Persian author with clinical depression because it made Darius’ voice feel so authentic. Having not known much about Persian culture before reading, I spent half the book wondering where I could get all the food being so alluringly described, and the other half being amazed at how passionately Khorram was able to paint Iran for the reader. I’d say a highlight of the book for me was Darius’ relationship with his father because of the development they both went through. The only critique I have is that the lack of communication was frustrating at times, and I felt the ending was a bit rushed. Though– that could have just been me not wanting the book to end.
Darius the Great is Not Okay was a story of discovering identity and overcoming adversity that I can guarantee will warm any reader’s heart. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 11 who likes when romance is not a main focus, learning about different cultures, and who wishes young adult books would be more emotionally touching. I gave this book 4 ½ stars and can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel: Darius the Great Deserves Better.
Trigger Warnings: ableism, bullying, depression, fatphobia (challenged), homophobia, family member with terminal illness, islamophobia, racism (challenged), suicidal ideation
Keen to read? You can pick up a copy of Darius the Great is Not Okay at the Frances Compton Library!
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