One thing I adore about books is how they so graciously give us a chance to step out of our shoes for a while and travel the world. Usually, I look to fantasy books to provide me with this experience, but when I picked up Darius The Great Is Not Okay, I knew I was in for an adventure far out of my knowledge.
The book is indeed a gift! It’s incedible that this author is sharing his Persian culture and experiences with readers all over the world and giving us the highly relatable Darius Kellner who were mainly destined to adore. This is a stand out contemporary.
The Book in 3 Sentences
Darius might be half Persian, but he’s not sure he fits in with his family at all since he knows more about geek culture than his ancestors. He is friendless and awkward and also clinically depressed.
However, an unexpected visit to Iran tosses him straight into a world where all his relatives speak Farsi and have a million cultural, social cues that he messes up, and he’s sure this is going to be the worst trip of his life until he meets Sohrab.
The Book is Here to Sweep you off your Feet and into Persian Culture
It starts in the good
I love being able to travel through reading. Most of us aren’t about to step into another country any time soon, so the fact that this book took its time to take us on the journey (through airports and time-zone differences and descriptions of greasy airport food) made the entire trip so authentic.
It was so easy to feel like Darius as we experience Iran for the first time. There’s plenty of touring scenes as well, and they were so exciting! Of course, we get to meet Darius’ big (and, in his opinion, sometimes overwhelming) Persian family too. The holidays! The food! The descriptions! It was amazing.
Darius is so Easy to Relate to
He’s an absolute nerd, with Star Trek being one of his most favorite things, and all the references to it throughout the book were just excellent. Darius is so sweet and kind. I love characters who know how to wear their heart on their sleeve.
Darius is also struggling with a lot — feelings of not being good enough for his super-uber-amazing dad, feeling isolated and alone at school, being a misfit with his extended Persian family because he’s also half American, and balancing his depression. He has a loving but messily awkward relationship with his family. He feels like he can’t please his dad and his little sister is annoying, but he also loves them so intensely.
Also, even over in Iran, he feels this suffocating awkwardness of wondering how he’ll get along with grandparents he’s never met. His fear, but also hope, is palpable. The book draws you into Darius’ first-person perspective, and you walk every page in his shoes. It’s a very personal and close narrative.
Let’s Talk about Depression
The depression representation is so full of genuine understanding and strained agony. I loved reading the author’s note at the end and finding out that the depression representation was very personal to him as well.
Darius’ experiences were very accurate, and you could tell the author bared his soul to the page as well. Darius has struggled with depression since he was a younger teen. He has no reason, and that chews him into anxiety spirals too.
Sometimes people have unbalanced brain chemistry. You don’t have to go through a traumatic experience to have depression, and the book talks about this in detail. I loved that. It’s such a gentle and understanding hug to teens who are struggling with their mental health and feeling guilty for not having a good enough reason to feel this way.
Darius talks about his wild emotional mood swings, his feelings of isolation and anxiety spirals, and how the medication makes him put on weight, and people judge him for that. It was also refreshing that the depression storyline was a big part of Darius life but not the catalyst for book drama. It underlined that you could have a life and manage your depression. No one says it’s easy. However, you can do it.
It’s about Friendship and Queer Identity
Darius has never had an excellent friend before, but in Iran, he meets Sohrab, and they immediately click. Darius has never even felt this before, but suddenly he has this boy who is including him and checking on him and making sure he doesn’t feel left out when everyone’s discussing things in Farsi but Darius only understands English.
Sohrab gets Darius playing soccer, which he surprisingly finds he enjoys and is rather good at, and tags along on their family tourist trips. There is a bit of jealousy that Darius has to contend with. Sohrab feels like the grandson his grandparents never got to have and knows them better than Darius ever will. Also, cultural differences cause friction at times. The book also has a quiet queer identity thread, although friendship takes the forefront of the story.
A Quiet YA at its Finest
It was such a soft story and, sure, there were no dramatic or traumatic plot twists, but it still hooks you to the page. It’s about friendship and family as well as many different and equally powerful types of love. It’s about figuring how you fit in the world.
There’s one part where Sohrab says, “We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss somebody.” I love that so much. This story is about Darius finding his place amongst his Persian family, but also understanding how he fits into the world while being himself.
About the Author
CG Drews is a YA book blogger with the goal to read every book in existence. She’s aiming for immortality for this. When not reading, she writes novels and blogs at paperfury.com.