In the book, "Darius the Great Is Not Okay," Darius Kellner is named for the great ancient Persian king, but he feels anything but great.
Being half Persian and half American, he feels he doesn't fit in anywhere. He looks Persian, but doesn't really connect with his Persian identity. Darius is bullied at school by a group he called the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy, led by Trent Boulger, the most popular kid at school, and his second-in-command, Chip Cusumono.
To make matters even worse, Darius feels he is a constant source of disappointment to his father. Darius thinks his father wants him to be something he isn't. He wants him to stand up to the bullies, be popular, slimmer and less depressed. There are two things Darius shares with his father: a love of "Star Trek" and a diagnosis of depression.
When his maternal grandfather falls ill in Iran, the family packs up and travels to Iran to spend time with him and Darius's grandmother. Darius had never met his grandfather or grandmother, and he had never been to Iran. Even when they Skyped, Darius felt that there was a divide because he never learned to speak Farsi.
He knew he would find Iran to be a country rich in tradition and culture, but ultimately what he wanted to find was himself. Could it happen in a country so far away with so little he was familiar with?
Darius becomes hopeful when he meets Sohrab. Sohrab was a neighbor boy who was Darius's age and who sometimes helped his grandparents with household chores. Darius finds Sohrab accepting of him as he is and, through Sohrab, Darius hopes to learn what friendship could be about.
This book is rich with Iranian culture. The author, Adib Khorram, paints a beautiful picture of the country's food, history and celebrations. Khorram speaks of the different religions in the region and how the politics of the country affects them.
The book is also an open, honest treatise on depression. It illustrates how depression affects the person who suffers from it, but also how it affects the family around them. Khorram vividly portrays how the depressed brain lies to the sufferer about perceptions and not only how they see the world, but how they think the world sees them.
The characters of Darius, his family and Sohrab are beautifully written as they struggle with all the lessons life throws at them. This novel is a beautiful book rich with culture, diversity, compassion and empathy, and it is eloquently written.
All these things combine to make it a must read and, as an extra bonus, Adib Khorram is a Missouri author!
Lisa Cartee is the children's clerk the Missouri River Regional Library.