Audiobooks are both a blessing and a curse. I love them because it means I get to squeeze books into parts of my day that it wouldn’t be possible to read in. But I find it hard to pick a book that I know I can stay with, because as it turns out, my attention span is awful and a stray leaf in a breeze is enough to distract me for a good chapter. I sometimes take months to choose a new audiobook, while my Audible credits pile up, and even when I’ve picked my next one I’m never entirely sure whether I’ve made the right choice.
That being said, I really enjoyed listening to Darius the Great Is Not Okay. It’s a coming-of-age story that deals with themes of identity, heritage, mental health friendship and culture. Darius Kellner is a half-Persian, half-American teenager who isn’t quite sure where he fits or who he really is. Being raised in America, there is a large part of his family and his heritage that he has never really been exposed to. He has only ever seen his mother’s parents on a computer screen, and all he knows of their lives is what he sees on a pixellated camera. When his grandfather becomes terminally ill, his family make the long journey to Iran.
Darius has mixed feelings about their visit. He wants to get to know his mother’s family, the place she grew up and the history of the city, but being immersed in Persian culture brings a lot of his insecurities to the surface. Although he knows a lot of the customs and although his family are welcoming, he worries that he doesn’t belong. He has always felt less Persian than his younger sister, because she can speak Farsi and he can’t, and seeing her fit in so easily, only seems to solidify that.
But then he makes a friend. Sorhab is an outsider too and he accepts Darius as he is, and goes out of his way to help him feel at home. He gets the other boys to speak English and invites Darius to play football. His friendship coaxes Darius out of his shell. There is an underlying sense that what Darius feels is more than platonic, but that’s a part of himself he’s not ready to explore yet, and it was nice to see two boys in a supportive and caring friendship.
Over the course of the novel, Darius’ relationship with his father also develops. Initially they are tense and awkward around each other, the only time they truly relax in each other’s company when they are watching Star Trek. They both have clinical depression, and even though they do talk about it occasionally, it is a tentative discussion. Darius sees his father’s behaviour and actions as proof of his disappointment. It shows how easy it is to see someone’s behaviour in a certain light when you’ve already made up your mind about them. But they have a really poignant moment towards the end of the novel, where Darius realises that maybe is father isn’t disappointed, far from it.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay is a heart-warming story about finding who you are, understanding others and the power of friendship.