I wanted to read Darius The Great Is Not Okay because, on the surface, it’s about someone who loves tea. This geeky kid who would rather talk about Middle-earth and the way to brew a proper cuppa is my sort of person. There’s a lot more to it, though, multiple layers to the story. It’s about Darius’s levels of identity, how he navigates life as this person with so many different facets in a world that would rather see people shoved into single term boxes.
The tea and the nerdiness might be what got me to read the first few pages, but the quickly realized richness of Adib Khorran’s debut novel is what got me to stay. Today, thanks to Penguin Teen and the blog tour, I’ll be able to share with you my thoughts on the book and a special guest post from the author themselves.
Published: 28 August 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary/LGBT+
Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. 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.
Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.
Rating: 5 Stars
Rep: mental health (depression [including medication discussion/side effects/stigma]), biracial MC (Persian [Iranian] American), fat MC
CW: bullying (w/particular racist tones at times)
Darius The Great Is Not Okay introduces the reader to Darius Kellner and for my perspective, I liked him immediately. He was a kind character who had sympathetic traits, interests that were relatable, and a voice that told his story, whether it was of good times or bad, in a rhythm that was comforting. While I felt the anxiety of certain scenes, such as moments when Darius recalls mood swings or encounters with bullies, there was still a sense of community with Darius that smoothed the edges.
The depression rep, especially when Darius talks about his medication and how he felt while trying to find the right one because of mood swings and side effects, made me feel very seen, very real and appreciative. I’ve read books with depression rep before and I’ve thought them good. I don’t remember many where I’ve felt like the author has written about the potential struggle to find the right balance of medications in a way that felt truly personal to me.
There are lines throughout that speak to Darius’s experience as a biracial teen. He’s white on his father’s side, Iranian on his mother’s and things come up throughout that let the reader into his experience: an interaction with a TSA agent, his mother telling him what the culture around mental health in Iran is like, etc.
Darius’s relationship with his father is complicated because there are so many facets that cause it to be shaky. Stephen’s perspective is worrying about his son’s mental illness, one that he himself shares and one whose stigma he understands not only in a general societal sense but on a personal level as well. He worries about Darius’s weight, which seems to be more of an excuse, something to focus on rather than their mutual MI diagnosis, but one that crops up constantly throughout the novel. Stephen is constantly doing what comes across as picking on Darius about what he eats, what he looks like, almost gas lighting him about how he would have an easier time of life if he fit in more, if he were more normal, if he looked more like everyone else. These moments were tense, spine tightening instances, but in a weird manner I think I understood why Stephen was acting this way.
Another aspect of Darius’s familial relationship was the one with his sister Laleh. Even though they’re years apart, teenager vs child, they’re very close. Darius isn’t afraid to sit down and have a tea party with his baby sister, or to carry her on his back when she was tired after the long flight to Iran. There are so many stories where siblings are pitted against each other for one reason or another. Watching the Kellner siblings interact with each other was like, if you go with the overall theme of the book, drinking a well brewed cup of tea. It warms you up from the inside and makes the experience better. A smile spreads across your face because there is goodness in the world, in something as simple as the well written portrayal of a strong sibling relationship.
The cultural representation was intricately intertwined throughout the narrative and made for such a rich reading experience. Darius’s feelings regarding his Iranian heritage, from things that he identifies with to other aspects that he only has a passing familiarity with, strengthened his characterization. It was easy to see, to feel his emotional state; combining that with his mental health, it made reading his book, his story, so engaging.
Drawing from Darius’s experiences, the reader learns about Darius’s internal experience and because of those experiences, the reflections against outside motivations, we learn about his family and their culture ranging from the food that Darius’s mother would prepare only on weekends because of the laborious process to taroof (what Darius calling a Primary Iranian Social Custom: putting others before yourself). These moments can seem fleeting, but they and the other more prominent moments felt like the threads that connected the reader not only to Darius, but to Laleh, Mamou, and other members of Darius’s family.
Darius The Great Is Not Okay has a lot of context that will reach out to many different readers. The rep within in cannot be discounted and I think it will mean a great deal to the people that it reaches. The voice of the novel, Darius’s words regarding himself as well as his observations of the world around him, give the story a deeply personal feeling, like every scene has a meaning that is so much more significant that the surface level.
One of the things I love most about Adi Khorram’s book is that this is not a read-once-and-done book. There is nuance in this book that will mean re-reads will be enjoyable and pleasing for many times to come.
Guest Post From Adib Khorram
The Hermit Librarian: Tea, properly made, is a core interest to Darius, despite his manager at Tea Haven. Are there greater themes or parallels between his interest in properly brewed teas and his story/journey that readers should take note of?
A lot of people ask me if Darius Kellner, the narrator of Darius the Great Is Not Okay, got his love of tea from me. Yes, he did, but it’s more than that. Tea infuses every bit of the story, because tea represents so much to Darius: his independence at work; his connection to his family; his hope for the future, because tea is what he wants to pursue as a career.
Tea means a lot to me, too. Every time I sit down to write, I always start with a cup of tea. Every cup of tea is a journey, just as every book is a journey.
Every cup begins with carefully measured leaves and perfectly heated water. And every story begins with thoughtfully crafted characters and a memorable plot.
Every cup requires patience as you wait for it to steep. And every story needs patience, as you learn to anticipate what happens next.
Every cup teaches you ritual. You have to perform the steps of making tea in a particular order or it turns out wrong. Writing is a ritual, too: you have to show up. Whether it’s a certain word count every day, or a few minutes at a time when you can squeeze them in around an already busy life, you have to want to write. You have to have intention.
Every cup has to stop steeping at some point. If you leave the leaves in too long, the tea turns bitter. And every story has to come to an end.
Every cup is a promise, because even though you’ve finished one cup, you know you can always have another. And that’s what’s beautiful about stories, too. When one ends, that means another can begin.
Darius’s story is all about love: love for his family, love for his friend, and ultimately, love for himself.
And at the end of the day, the reason he loves tea, the reason I love tea, the reason any of us love tea, is this:
Tea is love.
About the Author
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.
August 20 – Novel Novice – Creative Instagram Picture
August 21 – AEB Book Reviews – Review
August 22 – VelarisReads – Book Aesthetics
August 23 – Happy Book Lovers – Creative Instagram Picture
August 24 – Forever and Everly – Review
August 27 – Vicky Who Reads – Listicle: Random Things Darius Would Approve Of
August 28 – Snarky yet Satisfying – Creative Instagram Picture
August 29 – The Hermit Librarian – Author Guest Post:
August 30 – Keep Holding on to Books – Book Aesthetic
August 31 – Malanie Loves Fiction – Review
September 3 – Afire Pages – Review + Author Guest Post
September 4 – Dotters Daughters Picks – Moodboard
September 5 – The Fandom – Review + Different Persian dishes in the book
September 6 – The Royal Polar Bear Reads – Author Interview
September 7 – Reading (AS)(I)AN (AM) ERICAN – Review
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.