Darius the Great Deserves Better
By Adib Khorram
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Darius’s life is finally coming together. He’s got a job at his favorite tea shop, a boyfriend his family loves, a position on the varsity soccer team, and an increasingly better relationship with his dad and his own mental health. But as Darius’s grandfather in Iran finds his health declining and his grandmothers move in, Darius’s life starts to not feel so perfect and together. His father’s depression is coming back, his sister is struggling with bullying at school, and Darius isn’t sure he’s ready for the sex his boyfriend keeps pushing for. What’s a young man to do when life is falling apart and the only thing that makes sense is a boy who is definitely not his boyfriend?
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I want to start by stressing that Darius the Great Deserves Better is a sequel to Darius the Great is Not OK and while I believe I can speak to this book without spoiling too much of the original work, there may be some very slight spoilers. Go read Darius the Great is Not OK, because it is very good, and it will probably help you appreciate this review better.
Still with me? Excellent. Let’s talk about sexual consent and the importance of agency and boundaries.
Darius the Great is full of rich characters who remind the reader and Darius that all of us have inner lives and struggles that the outside world may never see. Because the novel is in first person, we get a close up and personal look at Darius’s inner life. We see him struggle to accept himself and his actions as normal. A recurring statement in the books is Darius asking “That’s normal, right?” as if to reassure himself while also asking the author.
That question of what is and isn’t normal is the central theme to the book’s conflicts. Is it normal for Darius not to feel ready for sex? Is it normal to feel like the weight of your family’s mental health is on the shoulders of you, the oldest child? Is it normal to need to be on medication for depression? Is it normal to feel like a job is maybe taking advantage of you or is maybe not the right place for you?
Darius struggling with these questions is so important for a YA book to tackle, particularly in the context of teen boys. Often we see young men as being sex crazed, unable to stop themseslves from wanting it. Darius has a sex drive (that is, he is not ace) and says that he would, eventually, like to have sex. But he also isn’t sure he wants that now with his current boyfriend. Even as his boyfriend pressures him, saying sex is something he needs, Darius finds ways to lay down his own boundaries.
How refreshing to let young men know it’s ok to not have sex if you are uncomfortable! How refreshing, too, to see that language specifically aimed at young queer men, whom the media often shows as simply moving from one sexual conquest to the other.
Ultimately, this is a story about finding ways to put up boundaries, on how to prioritize your needs even when you feel that you have to be the emotional support of everyone else around you. Darius learns to put his physical and mental health first and that, by doing so, he is better able to help those around him. When we learn to love ourselves, it becomes so much easier to love others.
Darius the Great Deserves Better is so touching and important. The themes I touch on here are just some of the deeply important subjects this book tackles. It holds so much heart and so much thoughtfulness that I found myself tearing up multiple times. It is the kind of book that I suspect will go on to be considered a classic of the genre. It’s out now, so check out your local indie bookstore for your copy today!
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Darius the Great Deserves Better? Leave a comment telling me your Darius ship. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.