Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram
I’d be fine if Adib Khorram writes ten more books about the life of Darius Kellner. Thankfully, Darius got a second book (yes, you need to read the first one). I find him utterly fascinating, completely relatable, sincere, and authentic. And so stinking sweet. He’s just the nicest kid. Darius is working his dream job at Rose City Teas (see what I mean, he’s a teenager and this is his dream job!) alongside the owner’s son, who happens to be his boyfriend. EEK! Darius has a boyfriend! That’s not all that’s changed- school is going a little better, and now he’s playing varsity soccer thanks to a refresher course from time spent with Sohrab in Iran. As he’s learning to manage his time and juggling all his responsibilities, things at home are strained. His dad’s been acting differently, and now he’s going away for a work trip, with no return date planned. In his place, his grandmothers come to help out with Darius and his little sister because his mom’s been working so much. His queer grandmothers need their own book- such an interesting story there. Sohrab has been a no-show on Skype lately, and his grandfather’s health is just getting worse. Laleh isn’t her usual spunky self either. And because Darius is Darius, he worries about all of this. A lot.
Khorram’s strongest talent is authenticity with his characters. Most noticeable is adolescence, identity, and mental health. Writing a male YA character doesn’t typically include so much frank discussion about the body, while it’s female counterparts have plenty to talk about, and we should applaud that. Self-esteem about one’s body isn’t relegated to only one gender, but that’s how society treats it. Darius has normal self-doubt about his body, and it’s refreshing to see on the page. He knows he’s gay, but his hesitations in his relationship with Landon are very typical experiences (gay or straight), as is his confusion with his budding friendship with Chip Cussamano. Khorram’s ability to weave such realistic situations and dialogue around conversations and instances of depression is by far the best representation I’ve read. As with the first book, his father’s depression is represented. This time around, it’s a glimpse into what happens when we think our parents know how to handle something when, in reality, they struggle as much as anyone else. There is a definite conclusion in Darius’s story, but I’d love to read more. Especially Chip (man, his story was fascinating too!).