S02E07. Darius The Great Is Not Okay

What can you do when you feel disconnected from your family, and your culture? Darius is a ‘fractional Persian’, and speaks better Klingon than Farsi. And his first trip to Iran is about to change his life. In this episode, we chat about Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. We discuss what causes and maintains depression, cultural understandings of mental illness, and reflect on the role of medication.

Mental health issues covered: depression, subclinical anxiety/panic attacks

Additional trigger warnings: antidepressant medication, difficult family relationships, bullying, racism and religious discrimination (ranging from microaggressions to discrimination), cultural stigma about mental illness, weight stigma and fat shaming, death of a parent/grief, suicidal ideation

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About the Book

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian – half, his mum’s side – and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life. 

Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes.

Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. 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. 

About the Author

Adib Khorram is the author of Darius the Great is not Okay, which earned the William C. Morris Debut Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor, as well as a multitude of other honors and accolades. His followup, Darius the Great Deserves Better, was an Indie Bestseller, and received a Stonewall Honor. His debut picture book, Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story was released in 2021. When he isn’t writing, you can find him learning to do a Lutz jump, practicing his handstands, or steeping a cup of oolong.

You can find Adib on his website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our Thoughts

This is a beautifully written book that balances humour and tender emotions. We love how the book explores the ways that both thought processes and stressful experiences can contribute towards depression – and how there is not always a clear ’cause’ of depression. We also really like how Darius normalises taking medication as a way to manage depression, though we would have liked more of an acknowledgment that there are also other strategies and treatments that can help with depression.

We love how the author writes about Persian culture. Both of us learned a lot about the food and the customs, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we’re already quite familiar with taarofing from our own backgrounds! Even more so, Darius’ sense of belonging (or not belonging) and then reconnection to the Persian part of his identity were heart-wrenching and joyful in turns. Overall, we highly recommend this book, and are looking forward to the sequel!

Recommended Readings

Relevant mental health resources:

  • Black Dog Institute has a comprehensive page of information and resources on depression.
  • This New York Times article discusses a number of websites to find therapists of colour in the US. In Australia, Shapes and Sounds provide a list of Asian-Australian psychologists and social workers, as well as provide resources about the intersection of mental health and culture.

More stories like Darius the Great is not Okay:

Here are some other young adult novels we have enjoyed that cover similar themes:

Voices from Lived Experience

Here are some of the views we found from people about the book, or about their own experiences with depression or being multi-racial:

  • Vox interviewed six mixed-race individuals regarding their language around their identities.
  • NPR has a podcast episode about ‘racial impostor syndrome’, with multi-racial people who don’t feel like they can claim a part of their identity for one reason or another.
  • May at Forever and Everly wrote ” One of the things I loved most about this book was the depression representation… One of my favorite things about the rep is that it shows the “subtlety” (if you could call it that) of depression. Sometimes it’s not a huge thing looming over you; sometimes it’s just a collection of moments that build up until you can’t take it anymore… Also, so many struggles with his Persian identity were struggles I could relate to, though of course with my Thai identity.”

On the TBR Pile

  • There is a sequel! Darius the Great Deserves Better is on our TBR. We’re keen to see Darius explore his sexuality!  
  • If you have any recommendations of books that explore similar themes, let us know!

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