Blurb & Info
Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran this past spring, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, his varsity soccer practices, and his internship at his favorite tea shop, Darius is feeling pretty okay. Like he finally knows what it means to be Darius Kellner.
Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit while his dad is gone on business, and Darius isn’t sure whether they even like him. The internship isn’t what Darius thought it would be, and now he doesn’t know about turning tea into his career. He was sure he liked Landon, but when he starts hanging out with Chip — soccer teammate and best friend of Trent Bolger, epic bully — well, he’s just not so sure about Landon anymore, either.
Darius thought he knew exactly who he was and what he wanted, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he deserves better.
Published: August 25, 2020
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Series: Darius the Great #2
This review contains minor spoilers for Darius the Great is Not Okay and Darius the Great Deserves Better, as well as non-explicit discussion of physical intimacy and homophobic stereotypes.
I read this book in a buddy read with the wonderful Sarah @ Suits of Stories!
I have been trying to write this review for… actually over a month, and I’ve discovered that it is so freakin’ hard to review sequels, because not everyone has read the first book in the series and there is a high likelihood of me confusing the heck out of those people. You can read my review of Darius the Great is Not Okay here, but what you should really do is just read the book! I promise you won’t regret it. Pinky swear.
…Alright, I assume you put everything else in your life on hold, found a copy of Darius the Great is Not Okay, read it all the way through in one (or perhaps two at most) sitting(s), and are now returning to this review wondering how in the world Adib Khorram can possibly top the masterpiece that is the first book in this series.
I’m here to tell you that he almost managed it.
The reason that Darius the Great Deserves Better works so well is because Khorram does not attempt to speak further on the exact same issues that Darius was wrestling with in the first book (depression, his relationship with his father, and being a Fractional Persian). His characterization is consistent with what we’ve learned about him from Darius the Great is Not Okay, but he is in a much different mental place than he was before taking his life-changing trip to Iran, and he is now facing a whole new set of problems.
One thing that immediately jumped out to me and that I immediately loved is how Darius is very explicit in saying that 1) he is gay, and 2) that he doesn’t feel ready to have sex with his boyfriend, Landon. To me, that feels huge. There is a widespread and very harmful stereotype that LGBTQA people are not only more promiscuous but also more preoccupied with finding sexual satisfaction than cishet people, which is not true. Not only that, but there is also a negative stereotype of teenage boys being immature, shallow, and untrustworthy because they’re “obsessed with sex.” Darius turns both of those stereotypes on their heads, and Khorram just keeps going from there.
Khorram talks about the issue of consenting to physical intimacy so eloquently and so compassionately throughout this book. Landon is not villainized for wanting sex, and Darius isn’t a prude for not feeling ready. When this issue reaches a tipping point in the relationship, Khorram writes with a beautiful command of tension, as well as empathy for the general ineptitude of teenagers involved in affairs of the heart. I loved how the relationship progressed, and while it was pretty obvious from the get-go how the love triangle between Darius, Landon, and Chip was going to end, the route by which Khorram took me there had a multitude of unexpected twists and turns that kept me guessing.
One theme that remains consistent through the series is how, as people of Middle Eastern descent, Darius and his younger sister, Laleh, face prejudice from their peers, and how white adults in positions of power are either ignorant, unable, or unwilling to step forward. I absolutely loved how Darius was a protective and supportive older brother; it feels rare to have a complex sibling relationship that isn’t antagonistic, and I relished every moment of it.
What prevented this book from being a five-star read, however, were Darius’ paternal grandmothers. They were complex characters, don’t get me wrong, and I was itching to find out more about them — but aside from some offhand hints, Khorram never really explores why Oma and Grandma are so distant from their grandchildren, and why Stephen (Darius’ father) struggles in his relationship with them. The inter-generational relationships that Darius was both part of and witnessing from a semi-removed position were definitely unique and interesting, but they didn’t receive as much development as they deserve.
Khorram does what seems like a good bit of setup for a potential sequel towards the end of Darius the Great Deserves Better, so perhaps he plans to further develop/explain the grandmothers’ relationships in a third book? I can’t deny that the ending left me excited for more, and I am hoping to see Sohrab and Darius reunited — but that’s all up in the air for now, and all I can do is wonder.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5