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Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Darius the Great Is Not Okay Book Poster Image
Unforgettable, heartwarming story of friendship and family.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The novel is filled with the foods, customs, and celebrations of Iran. This is Darius' first visit to his mother's country, and he takes readers along as he celebrates Nowruz (Persian New Year), snacks on roasted watermelon seeds, eats rosewater sorbet, ice cream with saffron and pistachios, and Chelo Kababs, and drinks many different teas. When his family visits the ancient ruins at Persepolis, he finally sees the palace of his namesake, Darius the Great, who ruled the Persian Empire from 552-486 BC.

Positive Messages

The simple act of offering to be someone's friend can change a life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Darius has clinical depression and talks about it in an honest and transparent way throughout the novel. He shares being diagnosed, the side effects of some medications, and the positive difference the right meds have made in his life.

 

Violence

Verbal bullying. 

Sex
Language

Single uses of "a--hole" and "s--t." 

Consumerism

Mentions of Dr. Pepper, Sour Patch Kids, and Darius and Subway restaurant for scene setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Adib Khorram's utterly captivating cross-cultural coming-of-age novel Darius the Great Is Not Okay chronicles a few life-changing weeks in the life of Darius Grover Kellner, a half-Persian half-American sophomore at a Portland, Oregon, high school. Darius is overweight, taking medication for clinical depression, verbally bullied, and friendless. And it's just not at school where Darius feels left out. His relationship with his father consists of watching a single Star Trek episode together each evening. But when the family makes a trip to Iran to visit his mother's dying father, Darius unexpectedly makes a friend. The story stays away from politics (one character has a father who's a political prisoner) and focuses instead on family, friends, and the rhythm of everyday life in Iran. This is a must-read for any teen who's ever felt left out or struggled to fit in. The novel has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Morrison Award, presented by the Young Adult Library Services Association to an outstanding first-time author writing for teens.

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What's the story?

Darius Grover Kellner, the main character in DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, is Half-Persian and half-American, overweight, bad at sports, a serious Star Trek nerd, and works after school at a local tea shop -- all of which makes him a target for verbal bullying by the jocks at his Portland, Oregon, high school. It doesn't help that his architect father keeps telling him to stand up to them and try to "act a little more normal." This hurts Darius to the core, as he's never understood why his father has emotionally shut him out. They only spend time together in the evenings, when they watch a single episode of Star Trek. But they share one very significant thing in common: Both are taking medication for clinical depression. When Darius' mother learns that her father is dying of cancer, the family decides it's time to make a first visit to Iran for Darius and his younger sister, Laleh. The visit is a life- changer for him, as he makes a first-ever best friend, a teen neighbor named Sohrab. They bond over playing soccer (Darius discovers he's actually pretty good at it) and the fact that they both feel like outsiders (Sohrab is a Bahai, an often-discriminated minority in Iran). 

Is it any good?

This gentle, heartwarming cross-cultural coming-of-age story delivers a profound message of hope for any teen who's struggled with depression or felt they'd never fit in. There's no sex or violence or profanity-laced dialogue in Darius the Great Is Not Okay, simply an almost-impossible-to-put-down story told by a nerdy teen with a wicked sense of humor, who, like so many boys and girls in middle and high school, is picked on simply because he has different interests and looks different.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Darius the Great Is Not Okay taught them about living with depression. Do you have any friends or family members who are challenged by depression? Why do you think it's something people are so reluctant to talk about?

  • Darius' father tells him he should stand up to bullies and try to "act a little more normal." Do you think this is good advice, or is there a better way to handle verbal bullying?

  • Where are your ancestors from? Does your family eat any special food from that country or celebrate any of its holidays?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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