I let Dad hold me, like that tiny potato-sack version of myself, sleeping on his chest when I was a baby.
“You’re okay,” he murmured.
“No. I’m not.”
“I know.” He rubbed my back up and down. “It’s okay not to be okay.”
This book has been on the top of my TBR for months. So when Penguin Teen contacted me about being a part of the official blog, I jumped at the chance. DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY has everything: a diverse main character, an accurate description and portrayal of mental illness, and realistic family dynamics.
The 411: The son of a Persian woman and a Caucasian man, Darius has never felt like he belonged. He doesn’t speak Farsi. He’s not athletic or fit enough to please his seemingly alpha-male father. The only thing he appears to have in common with him is their daily ritual of taking their medication for depression. Darius would rather master the perfect pot of tea than be the captain of the football team and because of this, he feels even more isolated from his family, his school, and his community. When his maternal grandfather’s health begins to decline, Darius’ family makes the trip to Iran to visit before he passes. It’s there where he meets, Sohrab, the teenage neighbor to his grandparents. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s 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.
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY tackles a bunch of big issues: the stigma of mental illness, racism, fatphobia, sexual identity…and they’re all covered with a subtlety that feels perfected over the years vs. a debut novel. Sometimes books need to hit you over the head with the message and sometimes the strength of the moral is in the quiet. And that’s where DARIUS lives.
Darius’ struggle with the feeling of not belonging felt overwhelmingly real and personal. I am not biracial, but an international adoptee who grew up in a largely white area and has often felt the sting of not belonging or being in between. Sohrab and Darius’ friendship melted my little heart. I loved seeing Darius feel a part of something for the first time. A place where he intrinsically fit in just because of the person he is. I hope everyone finds their Sohrab. And I hope that everyone has their moment when they are Darioush to someone.
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY is such a feel-good novel that I have a feeling will touch hearts everywhere. I’m incredibly excited to see where Khorram goes from here. We need more Dariuses in our lives.
Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle (SCY) under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. This is his first novel.
Thank you Penguin Teen for my copy of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY and the bag of Earl Grey Tea—it was the perfect accompaniment to this heartwarming novel.