Title: Darius the Great Deserves Better
Author: Adib Khorram
Publisher: Dial Books
Publishing Date: 2020
Genre/Format of the Item: Book
Stonewall Book Awards (Honor) – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award-2021
Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2020
School Library Journal Starred Review
Booklist Starred Review
Reading Level/Interest Level:
Grade 8-12 (NoveList)
Plot Summary: Darius Kellner is having a good year, at least by high school standards. He has a cute boyfriend, real friends, a place on the soccer team, a job, and a better relationship with his dad. His life seems just about perfect except for the nagging feeling deep in his chest that things are about to go very wrong. As his family deals with the impending death of his grandfather, Darius is navigating new social situations and pressures. His sister, Laleh, is struggling in school and his parents seem more stressed out than ever. His finds solace in soccer, Landon (his boyfriend), and his new job. But as Landon begins to pressure Darius about sex and his job begins to feel like more pressure than pleasure, Darius must make some decisions about what truly makes him happy. Darius also must deal with the constant taunting from the school bully, Trent, and the sudden attention from soccer buddy Chip. Darius realizes that what he deserves is respect. This heartwarming story will leave you cheering for Darius and the many challenges that he overcomes.
Author Background: Adib Khorram was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. After being involved in theater in high school, Khorram graduated from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville with a degree in theater with an emphasis in lighting design. He worked in the event production industry for many years and then decided to focus on writing. His first novel, Darius the Great Is Not Okay was published in 2018. It won several awards including the William C. Morris Award. Darius the Great Deserves Better is a sequel to his first book. Khorram enjoys yoga, figure skating, electric guitar, and playing board games in his free time (Khorram, n.d.).
Critical Evaluation: This was an excellent book. Darius is a character that I will remember for a very long time. I loved how honest and raw Darius’s emotions were. Rarely have I read a book with a character that has a thought and then immediately wonders if it is “normal” or something to be ashamed of,and yet I feel as though this is a very normal occurrence that many people have, especially teens. Darius is a character that teens can relate to on many levels. It was interesting that Darius mentioned having two grandmothers and that they were gay, but didn’t mention that one was a trans woman until half-way through the book. Perhaps this was because it was already stated in the first book (Darius the Great Is Not Okay) but perhaps it was the author’s way of normalizing the couple. I appreciated how the author did spend time developing the minor characters, like the grandparents. I thought that the book dealt with the stress of the transition of the grandmother in a very respectful way. Khorram describes the stress that the transition had on his other grandmother and father, and yet, to Darius, his grandmothers are all he has every known. The author deals with many emotional issues, such as depression and sexual pressures in a similar way–with respect but with a very down-to-earth approach that engenders empathy and is very relatable. Darius’s hesitancy and internal dialogue related to sex are very believable and it was refreshing to see another character agree with Darius’s feelings about waiting for sex in his heterosexual relationship. I think that examples such as this will make this book a favorite among teen readers.
Creative Use for a Library Program: This book would be a good addition to a teen Battle of the Books. This would entail teams of four teens reading four books and then battling other teens in a friendly book competition! The library could supply the books and give the teams six weeks to read them over. The teens can decide how they will approach the reading (all read each book or divy it up) . The library will host the Battle of the Books one Friday evening in the community room. The teams will be asked questions about the books (content related) and then the winning team gets a small prize (gift cards to a local smoothie restaurant for example). This would promote reading diverse authors in a fun and competitive way!
Speedround/Book Trailer: Darius seems to have it all now that he has returned from his trip to Iran: a place on the soccer team, real friends, a boyfriend, a job, and a better relationship with his dad. But he can’t shake this sinking feeling that nothing is going quite right. Suddenly Chip is wanting his attention and he feels torn about his feelings for his teammate. Can Darius find a way to be true to himself and live the life that he deserves? Read the book to find out!
Potential Challenge Issues/Defense Preparation: There may be people who do not agree with the conversations around sex in the book. I think that the conversations are an important piece of what makes the book so powerful. Darius doesn’t feel right about going to the next level with Landon and he does not give in to Landon’s pressuring. I think that it could be reaffirming to some teenagers to have a character decide that they are not ready to have sex. I would tell a parent that the conversations around sex are actually very respectful and highlight the range of emotions that surround the decision to have sex or not as a teenager.
Reason for Inclusion: I included this book in my blog for many reasons. It is an award winning book (Stonewall Honors), but it also deals with a lot of complex emotional issues that teenagers can relate to. The tone of the book is warm and inviting–it is easy to immediately bond with Darius and his family. The characters are diverse and the conflicts are realistic and very teen centered. This book leaves you wanting to know what happens next and I think that teens will really connect with Darius. It is important to me to include authors of diverse backgrounds and Khorram is a queer Iran-American author.
Caesura. (2021, September 15). Adib Khorram, Young Adult Novelist, Interview [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KSdFBtXx8s
Khorram, A. (n.d.). About Adib Khorram. https://adibkhorram.com/bio