Bookish, Reviews

Review: “Darius the Great is Not Okay,” Adib Khorram

Hey hey hey!

I’m back again with another review for BookishFirst!  And can I just say, loud and clear:

EVERYONE MUST ADD THIS BOOK TO THEIR TBR IMMEDIATELY!

There.

Now, back to the actual review:

Darius the Great is Not OkayFive-Star-Review

Thank you to BookishFirst and Penguin Teen for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Darius is a self-proclaimed “Fractional Persian,” who feels isolated in America for his differences, yet wonders if he’s “authentic” enough to belong to his extended family.  He is clinically depressed and on medication, which is about the only thing he seems to have in common with his dad. Darius feels he can’t do anything to earn his white father’s approval, and he’s pretty sure his little sister, Laleh, makes a much better Persian than he does.  When tragedy hits back home–in Iran–Darius’ mom decides it’s time for the family to travel across the world and for her children to meet their relatives. In between experiencing Iranian culture and figuring out how to connect with family members he’s only ever seen on a computer monitor, Darius finds friendship in the most unexpected place.  It is in this world so different from what he’s used to that he learns what it means to belong.

From beginning to end, I absolutely loved this story.  Darius’ narrative voice is quirky and real. The plot is simple, serving more as a character study.  This story is one of the best depictions of the inner dialogue of depression I have ever seen in text.  In his protagonist, Adib Khorram has created a teenage voice we need today. Darius is a relatable narrator as he pursues his father’s respect and seeks to find his place in the world.

This is not a plot-driven text.  In fact, I bet some readers will say this novel has no plot, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.  That’s because the plot serves as a backdrop to the actual development, which exists in the characters.  I don’t often enjoy character-driven stories, especially when they’re written for a young adult audience.  However, in this book, Khorram successfully creates a story that isn’t dependent on the action. And the plot that is there serves the extra purpose of educating the audience–who, like me, may have very little knowledge of Iranian culture.

Since the plot is non-existent, it is easy for me to say that I totally love the characters.  This is where Khorram flourishes, where he works his magic. Every character, whether central or peripheral, is extraordinarily unique.  This is an artistic feat, and Khorram certainly has the talent for it.

Darius is a fantastic narrator.  He has a super specific voice, full of nerdy/geeky witticisms, and all of his authentic dialogue makes his character very relatable.  The specificities in his interests brought him to life. Also, the way he speaks of himself is a fairly accurate depiction of depression and how it can work on and in the mind.  In him, we have a first-hand perspective of an internal dialogue that is telling lies. And the use of this voice is powerful, both in making a connection to the reader and in establishing a purpose for where the story goes.  All around, Darius is an awesome lead role.

I could rave equally about all the other characters.  Sohrab is an adorable addition. He reminds me so much of my best friend when I was Darius’ age.  He’s the perfect balance for our narrator, and yet he still feels authentic. And he’s the attentive friend we all need.  Darius’ parents are great–even though his dad frustrated me. They felt like real parents, just like his little sister felt like a real little sister.  Plus, I learned so much from the rest of the characters. As I’ve said, each one had a unique personality (I want my own Maman. I have Grandmas, but a Maman sounds so unbelievably wonderful).  In the end, I didn’t love this book for any of the action it described, but rather for the people I got to meet.

Let’s talk writing style for a moment.  I never do this, literally, but–Khorram’s narrative style reminded me so much of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

That’s right.  I have elevated this book enough to compare it to one of my favorite books of all time.

There are extraordinary similarities between Charlie (Perks) and Darius.  And, in the same way that Chbosky’s character speaks directly to the reader, Khorram’s Darius can make that amazing connection with his audience.  And some of the authenticity behind a teenage boy protagonist lies in the basic, simplistic, bare tone of voice these authors utilized. The language in this book isn’t high literature, and that is totally appropriate.  Not to mention, Khorram does a great job of blending languages and introducing terminologies. Everything flowed eloquently without sounding “snobby” or “authoritarian.”

Plus, I just want to point out that I read a book about a boy and his relationship with his dad (mainly) and best friend (also fairly central) in a matter of days.  Darius and I have nothing in common (at least on the surface–we have more in common that I immediately realized), and yet I could connect to his story.  That is beautiful.

I also loved the overall message of this book about friendship and belonging.  The message from the Iranian saying that translates to, “Your place was empty,” is so beautiful.  This is a message teens will understand, and one that they feel physically and emotionally connected to.  And it’s coming from a diverse title with a unique cultural take and perspective. All of this makes Darius the Great is Not Okay simply wonderful.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I hope to read it again in the near future, and I would recommend it to almost anyone, but especially to young people still learning about where they belong.

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