#HylandersRead Book of the Month: “Darius the Great Is Not Okay”

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“Darius the Great Is Not Okay” by Adib Khorram was the #HylanderReads Book of the Month for October at Columbia Heights High School.

“Darius the Great Is Not Okay” follows the story of a teenage boy as he travels to Iran to meet his Persian family for the first time. Throughout the story, he grapples with the struggles that come from cultural dysphoria and depression, both at his home in Portland, Oregon, and in Iran. It doesn’t help that his father acts like Darius isn’t his son, or that Darius’s Persian family constantly criticizes him for not being educated enough. Darius feels he may drown in the sea of overbearing adults when he suddenly meets his neighbor Sohrab. Sohrab listens to Darius and admires Darius for what he is, not what he could be. 

I have yet to read a novel that addresses mental illness as well as this one does. Khorram does an excellent job writing about Darius’s depression in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the illness is completely overtaking Darius’s life; it’s just something that Darius has always had. It’s not dramatized or blown out of proportion; it fits in so naturally with what else is happening in the plot, and Khorram is so consistent that it really feels like it’s part of the character, not just an added trait to give Darius more dimension. Khorram also excellently develops the relationship between Sohrab and Darius, particularly with showing how two people can love each other platonically. It is obvious that Darius and Sohrab care for each other in so many different ways, but it is never insinuated that the two boys have desires to be partners, and as a writer myself, I admire the pacing with which Khorram built up their relationship. 

The exploration of culture was really interesting as well; Darius knows very little about his Persian culture, so the readers are learning about the language, history and traditions alongside him, making the book educational as well as entertaining. Darius learns new words in Farsi, new holiday celebrations in Iran and, most importantly, popular Persian foods. The detail with which all these new experiences  are described really helps with drawing the reader in and making them feel like a part of the story.

With something in it for every audience, “Darius the Great…” is an all-around must-read. From Persian culture to mental illness, to finding a place in the world, this novel covers most, if not all, of the topics one looks for in a striking story. If you’re looking for something lighthearted yet gut-wrenching, “Darius the Great Is Not Okay” is most certainly a book that will open your eyes to new environments, and your heart to those around you.