This coming-of-age story (336 pages) was published in August of 2018 by Penguin. The book takes you to modern Iran. Melissa read Darius the Great Is Not Okay and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
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Our hero Darius may be named for Darius I, the third Persian King of Kings. But our Darius feels anything but mighty. He’s nerdy, overweight, really (really) into tea, lonely, and depressed. Now his parents have announced that the family will soon travel to Iran to visit his dying grandfather.
Darius knows way more about The Hobbit and Star Trek: The Next Generation than he does about his Persian heritage. He can spit out some lines in Klingon, but he knows zero Faris, unlike his little sister. Plus, he doesn’t fit in at home, so how can he possibly feel a sense of belonging in Iran?
His anxiety about the trip slowly increases, and he’s understandably apprehensive about meeting his extended family. There’s his intimidating grandfather, the unexpected surprise of his very loving grandmother, assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins — and the boy next door who just might become Darius’ first real friend and ally.
The story unfolds through Darius’ affectingly honest and vulnerable voice. He’s kind, good-natured, insecure — all the things that make being a teenager so challenging. But his experiences in Iran, both sweet and bitter, help Darius slowly find peace with himself and his family, especially his father. But Darius wonders if his new sense of self, and his newfound relationships, can survive when he returns to the United States.
Author Adib Khorrma is also a half-Persian tea enthusiast who grew up in the midwestern United States, and through Darius, he immerses us in the sights and tastes of Iran. As Darius explores his family’s heritage, we also get to celebrate Nowruz (the Iranian New Year), enjoy a trip to Persepolis and Yazd, and explores the many pleasures of Persian food. You will almost feel the heat of the desert and smell the spices wafting in the air. Warning: You will crave kabobs, rice, cardamom tea, and pastries — and, perhaps, long for an extended family to welcome you into their warm embrace, idiosyncrasies and all.
Qottab are these little pastries filled with crushed almonds and sugar and cardamom, then deep-fried and coated with powdered sugar. They are my favorite sweet. According to Mom, Yazd is pretty much the dessert capital of Iran, and had been for thousands of years. All the best desserts originated there: qottab, and noon-e panjereh (these crispy rosette things dusted in powdered sugar), and lavoshak (the Iranian version of Fruit Roll-Ups, but made with fruits popular in Iran, like pomegranate or kiwi). Yazdis had even invented cotton candy, which was called pashmak. — Adib Khorram
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