Understanding Others and Breaking Stigmas in Darius The Great is Not Okay


Darius the Great is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Contemporary YA Novel/Coming-Of-Age

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes (this is not explicitly clear until the second book)

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes (this is also not explicitly clear until the second book)

Main Character of Color: Yes

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Darius’s life isn’t exactly glamorous. He has a job at a tea shop that sells the worst, most sugary tea ever. He’s got more bullies at school than friends, he’s got depression, a crappy relationship with his father, and he has no idea where his place is. When his grandfather’s cancer starts to progress, Darius finds himself and his family on their way to Iran. As Darius learns more about his family history, will he find his place in the family and in his own mind?

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

Friends, I cannot even begin to tell you how much this book touches me. I feel like we so rarely get stories about young men trying to understand themselves, dealing with mental illness, and their own happiness. Darius the Great is Not Okay tackles these subjects with grace and empathy, bringing the reader to tears multiple times (it me, I’m the reader). 

Darius is a story about how the stigma against mental health sometimes keeps us from reaching out, even when we are on medication. It’s about how being open and honest with our family about our history with mental illness ultimately leads to stronger relationships. And it does so with the backdrop of a country that is not frequently written about with so much compassion.

Choosing to set Darius in Iran allows the reader to see the complexity and beauty of a place they may have very specific ideas about. This is intentional because just as Iran is complex and fully realized, so, too, is Darius. The story couldn’t have happened anywhere else because so much of Darius’s growth is centered on learning about a place he’s only heard of. The readers may have heard of what depression feels like, the same way we may have heard about what life is like in Iran, but by putting the reader inside Darius’s mind and inside Iran, we begin to feel what he feels, see what he sees, and so develop more empathy for the person and the place.

While this story contains multitudes, the heart of it is understanding others complexly. If you read a lot of my reviews, it won’t surprise you that such a story touches me. By breaking the stigma of what mental health looks like, about what a young Iranian-American teen boy looks like, Darius invites readers to open up about their own complexities, their own fears, their own stories. 

The fact that this book exists in the world is truly a gift. Grab a box of tissues and order from your favorite local indie bookstore (might I suggest Mysterious Galaxy for SoCal folks) because this is the kind of book you will reread. Trust me, I’ve already read it twice.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Darius the Great is Not Okay? Leave a comment telling me your favorite soccer team. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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