Review: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Rating: 5 stars
Release Date: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: young adult contemporary realistic fiction
Format/Source: ARC, from the publisher
at ALA annual conference
audiobook, from my library
Status: standalone

Darius doesn't think he'll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming--especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush--the original Persian version of his name--and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. This does not affect the content of my review.
Story Time:
Darius the Great is Not Okay is an absolutely phenomenal book, and it was one of my favorites of 2018! There's just so much to love about this story that I could talk about it all day! And yet, I find myself failing at how to properly review it. Seriously, I have been writing this review for 6 months now, and I feel like I'm never going to capture just how great this book is in an eloquent way. So instead of a regular review, I want to tell you a story about this year's North Texas Teen Book Festival.

Normally I don't get to see a ton of NTTBF because I moderate multiple panels and am the emcee of the signing. This year, I only moderated one panel so I got to see more of the festival and perform jobs I've never had the opportunity to do. One of the best things about NTTBF is the Speed Dating with a Book program. The festival purchases as many books written by festival authors as possible, and librarian volunteers pitch those titles to participating teens who get to pick one to take home for free. This program gives books to teens, exposes them to new books, and ensures that newer authors will have at least a few people in their signing line. I've never had the ability to participate in Speed Dating before, but this year, I signed up to be a matchmaker and help teens pick the book for them.

One of the fun things about being a matchmaker is that you get to pick the books that you're interested in to pitch. I immediately honed in on Darius (because I LOVE it!!), Seafire, Black Wings Beating, The Belles, and Yoon Ha Lee's middle grade Dragon Pearl. I thought these were a good mix of stories, and I was excited to pitch them. The thing is... I made a mistake. Darius is incredible, but I put it up against four sff book full of action and adventure. There is some adventure in Darius, but it's very much a character-driven story and much quieter than my other choices. I thought many of the teen readers participating in the program could relate to the story of a biracial boy who feels like he's not enough and out of place in his family and school. One boy very sweetly told me, "he sounds like me!!"... before he chose Dragon Pearl.

By the end of the first session of Speed Dating, I still had a large stack left. Thankfully a couple copies had been chosen, but I felt like I had failed Darius and Adib. I felt like I wasn't doing this beautiful book justice. This beautiful book will touch its readers, but how was I to get this book into these teens' hands??

The second session opened, and a boy BEELINED it toward my table. He immediately grabbed up a copy of Darius and gazed at it reverently. "I bought this copy at Barnes & Noble!" he told me excitedly. He'd been shopping there recently, stumbled across Darius, and decided to buy it instead of another book he'd intended. He said he loved the story and couldn't wait to meet Adib at the signing later that afternoon. He didn't need a copy in Speed Dating; he just wanted to hold the book he loved. My young friend eventually left to listen to pitches for other books, and I concentrated on pitching the remainder of my books (which then included Pride and Labyrinth Lost). A couple more copies of Darius disappeared from the stack, but still, it wasn't flying off the table the way I wanted.

Eventually I noticed my friend was back, this time standing next to the table. Someone asked to hear about Darius. I looked at this boy and asked him if he wanted to give it a go. He seemed surprised but was happy to provide his own pitch for Darius. I stayed quiet and let him do it his way, only adding a couple details after he had finished. It was interesting to hear a teen's perspective of the elevator pitch, and he included parts that I hadn't put into my pitch since it's supposed to be quick (over 500 teens in 2 hours!). I don't remember if anyone picked it up after that pitch, but I was grateful to have some help!

Again the boy left to go somewhere else, either to meet up with his friends or hear more book pitches... but then a little while later, the empty chair on my other side was pulled out and someone sat down next to me. I looked over, and he was back once again! After that, the two of us tag-teamed the pitches for Darius. The pile in front of us grew smaller and smaller and smaller until Speed Dating ended.

This interaction really touched me that day. What teen decides to spend his time at a book festival helping to pitch one book to other readers instead of the taking part in one of the other many activities available? And of course the answer is that this is exactly what bookish people do. That's what TEENS do, when they love something. I have two responses to loving something: either I don't talk about it at all and keep it quiet so I can love it privately or I shout about this thing to everyone I know and everyone I don't because I think they should love it too. I am enormously grateful to this boy who felt so seen by the words in Darius the Great is Not Okay that he took the time out of his day to help other teens find that book.

Mini Review:
Darius the Great is Not Okay is a really special book. It's a story that explores the intersections of one boy's identity as a biracial, fat, nerdy, gay boy living with depression. It's about family and friendship and toxic masculinity and feeling like who you are, all of who you are.... is enough.

Darius the Great does everything well. It explores all of these topics and more with such honesty and tenderness. Darius's voice is incredibly realistic and STRONG. I loved the story, loved all the wonderful characters and how each had a unique relationship to Darius that was given just the right amount of page time. I loved all the nerdy references to Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. I love Darius for his awkwardness, his kindness, and his bravery. I do think this is a book that everyone must read. THIS, I want to shout, MORE OF THIS. Give me more books like Darius the Great is Not Okay, and I think we all might just be okay.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he's not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don't usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at

Author Links:


  1. Thanks for sharing your review and the story! I love seeing your thought process on how you came to review this and your review in general.

  2. I very much enjoyed this book, and it definitely made me think about putting cardamom pods in tea, Persian-style. (But I have failed to do this as of yet.)

  3. I loved this post! This book was and still is on my must read list and you just made me want to read it even more.