“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.” (via Goodreads)
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram has a similar feel to Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, another contemporary YA book about a biracial boy coming to terms with the impending death of a grandparent, among other issues. Unlike Sal, Darius is Iranian-American and a sci-fi geek, not to mention he deals with depression. He uses Star Trek and J.R.R. Tolkien as a means to process his feelings.
I think that’s what I love most about YA fiction, that the teen protagonists aren’t aware of what they’re going through in the way adults are. They’re experiencing everything for the first time. Darius has no real-world context for his tense interactions with his father and grandfather, so he filters it through what he does understand: nerdy stuff. Except his interpretations, like most YA protagonists, may not always be right, even though he thinks they are. He thinks his father is ashamed of him and believes his father to be the perfect representation of western masculinity. But his father is only human. He makes mistakes and has his own faulty perspectives of his son. Neither know how to communicate openly with each other and so they drift farther and farther apart.
As an adult, I can see what Darius can’t. I know his father probably doesn’t wish his son was different or less embarrassing. I’ve already gone through what Darius is still stumbling around in. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a teen. Back then every interaction I had was run through the mill of my vast and insurmountable insecurities and anxieties. Now I know what’s happening to me and have learned not to take negative experiences to heart. And that’s why this book is so important. For teens who are figuring things out alongside Darius, his story is the Rosetta stone, a key to learning to live with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. For adults like me, it’s the opportunity to reflect on our own tumultuous adolescence and see our missteps.
Anyway, in case it isn’t obvious, Darius the Great Is Not Okay is an incredible book. Khorram writes with effortless charm and refreshing honesty. It’s by turns clever and quirky, heartbreaking and heartfelt, earnest and effervescent. To be quite honest, I might be a little in love with this book. I’ll be following Khorram for years to come.
My grandmother loomed large on the monitor, her head tiny and her torso enormous.
I only ever saw my grandparents from an up-the-nose perspective.
She was talking to Laleh in rapid-fire Farsi, something about school, I thought, because Laleh kept switching from Farsi to English for words like cafeteria and Heads-Down, Thumbs-Up.
Mamou’s picture kept freezing and unfreezing, occasionally turning into chunky blocks as the bandwidth fluctuated.
It was like a garbled transmission from a starship in distress. “Maman,” Mom said, “Darius and Stephen want to say hello.”Maman is another Farsi word that means both a person and a relationship—in this case, mother. But it could also mean grandmother, even though technically that would be mamanbozorg.
I was pretty sure maman was borrowed from French, but Mom would neither confirm nor deny.
Dad and I knelt on the floor to squeeze our faces into the camera shot, while Laleh sat on Mom’s lap in her rolling office chair.
“Eh! Hi, maman! Hi, Stephen! How are you?”
“Hi, Mamou,” Dad said.
“Hi,” I said.
“I miss you, maman. How is your school? How is work?”
“Um.” I never knew how to talk to Mamou, even though I was happy to see her.
It was like I had this well inside me, but every time I saw Mamou, it got blocked up. I didn’t know how to let my feelings out.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.