Y’all, this book hooked me from the get-go with the title and the cover. I didn’t even know what it was about, but the actual content of the book lived up to my expectations that were based solely off the superficials.
Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.
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.
Can we please start with that opening line? Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.
How heartbreaking is this? I can’t speak to the feeling of feeling torn between two cultures, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve all felt inadequate at times. From the very beginning of the novel it is clear that Darius is not very happy with his life. He doesn’t have many (any, really) friends, he is a sci-fi and fantasy geek, and he loves artisanal teas… basically the poster child for a stereotypical American teenage boy, right?
On top of all this “otherness” Darius is what he calls a Fractional Persian: half-Persian and half-American. He doesn’t speak much Farsi, but he also gets picked on at school for his unique name. Darius doesn’t feel like he fits in with his family, his peers, or his own skin. Then, Darius embarks on his first trip to Iran to meet his grandparents for the first time. This throws him into such an unfamiliar environment, but he realizes he actually kind of loves it.
While in Iran, Darius gets the opportunity to learn more about his culture, his heritage, and his whole Iranian identity that makes up one half of his Fractional Persian self. On top of this, Darius makes his first real friend. In Sohrab Darius finds someone who truly understands him. Sohrab gets that Darius doesn’t speak much Farsi, so he makes sure others speak English around Darius. Sohrab gets that Darius’s depression isn’t caused by one sad event, and he knows that it can show itself at any time in multiple different ways. He gets that Darius doesn’t have a great relationship with his dad, and sometimes Darius needs someone to talk to about that.
There’s a lot more that happens in the book, but I hate giving away spoilers. Instead, let me talk about all the things I loved and all the things I didn’t love.
I really loved that Darius, although not comfortable with his identity, was not ashamed of who he was. He might not have felt as though he fit in, but he never felt ashamed of being Iranian, of having a tummy instead of a six-pack, or of his depression. He always explained his depression as his brain not making the right chemicals, not as some terrible thing that has happened to him but just another part of him. The only time he felt weird about it was when taking his medication in front of his grandfather who culturally looks down on medication. I read the acknowledgements at the end and learned that the author also has depression, which I think is an important #ownvoices aspect that isn’t explored much by authors with depression. Like Khorram explains, depression is often seen as a dominant factor in people’s and character’s lives, but it doesn’t have to be, and I loved the representation of that in this book.
I also really loved reading from a culturally-divided point of view and watching Darius grow into his identity more. As I mentioned earlier, I can’t relate to this. But I can relate to not knowing more than just the basics of where my family comes from. I loved that Darius got to learn more about his family and his heritage by going to ruins, celebrating holidays, playing football, and just being surrounded by people who embody his relatively unexplored identity of being Persian.
Overall, I loved watching Darius grow with the help of his family, Sohrab, and himself. I found myself relating to a lot of his thoughts and passions (Star Trek Next Generation for the win), and watching him grow made me feel so proud of him. Also, the relationship Darius had with his little sister. So. Adorable.
In spite of all the things I loved about this book, there were a few things I wasn’t crazy about. Namely, the lack of connection I felt with Sohrab.
I loved the idea of Sohrab, but I felt like he wasn’t much more than just an idea on the page. For a character who plays such a large role in Darius’s life, I didn’t ever feel like I really knew him. With Darius, I could picture what he looked like, what his mannerisms were, what he might sound like, his facial expressions, everything. I felt the opposite with Sohrab. I have a vague impression of what he might look like, but it seemed like his personality was less defined than Darius’s. Honestly, this could be intentional. We are looking at Sohrab through Darius’s eyes, and he focuses more on how being friends with Sohrab feels than what exactly Sohrab does. But stil, as a reader I wanted more of a connection with him, and I felt like a part of the whole story was missing because of this lack of a connection with such an important character.
I definitely think this book lives up to the hype, and my only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy of this book, you’ll love it.