Rating: 4/5

Genre: YA, Contemporary Fiction

Darius the Great Is Not Okay and neither am I.

That sounds misleading, but the intention is quite the opposite. I usually can’t relate to many characters this well; however, that is not the case with Darius the Great Is Not Okay. The ability to relate and empathize with characters is a very personal matter because it not only builds a connection with the audience but also highlights aspects of our own lives that makes the story even more intriguing. This book covers a lot of topics concerning mental health, family, friendship, bullying, and identity; all from the perception of a high school sophomore.

This 2018 debut novel by Adib Khorram follows the life of Darius Kellner and his first trip to Iran. Darius is a self-described “Fractional Persian” (half on his mother’s side); he is bullied by his peers in school, takes medication for clinical depression and has a strained relationship with his father, the “Ubermensch.” Throughout his life his only relationship with his Persian grandparents is through a computer screen. Then the Kellner family decides to visit them in Yazd, Iran.

Darius has trouble fitting in at home, and he‘s sure things are going to be the same or even harder in Iran. That is the case until Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door. Then everything changes. Their friendship becomes one of the few saving graces of the visit. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Farsi version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. 

The struggles Darius faces are authentic and accurate. His depression and anxiety are prevalent throughout the book and this is the only book I have witnessed where the depiction of depression/anxiety isn’t automatically cured at the end and where the medication treatment isn't always right. Proper mental health representation is a big thing for me so to see a young character dealing with depression and anxiety, struggling with self-acceptance, identity, cultural/societal norms and etc, is riveting to read.

At the end of the book, there is a section containing a printed interview with Khorram. There is one answer that I want to share:

“What do you hope that readers take away from Darius the Great Is Not Okay?”

Khorram replied: “I hope non-Iranian readers will come away with an understanding of the humanity of Iranians. So much of the news coming out of Iran these days, especially what’s filtered through American media, tends to vilify them. And I hope Iranian readers come away with a little warmth in their heart from seeing themselves on the page.”

This beautiful, cross-cultural coming-of age story delivers a profound message to those struggling to make it to the next day. Sometimes all you need is one person to believe in you, and if you can’t find that person, be that person for someone else.