Tag Archives: Gay

[Blog Tour] Review for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Hi, everyone, I’m pleased to be posting again as part of the blog tour for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the ALA annual conference in New Orleans earlier this year. I hope you take some time to check out his book and read my review. 🙂

Cover of Darius the Great is Not Okay: two boys, one with short hair and one with longer curls, sit side by side with their backs to the viewer, overlooking the city of Yazd, Iran. A mosque with twin minarets looms in the distance, cast in a shaft of turquoise (the shaped of the letters of the title) that contrasts with the pale orange color of the buildings and the red sky. The title is rendered in bold white letters.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s 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.

Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

My Review:

I’m not sure how best to describe this book except to compare it to a weighted blanket. It settles onto you in a loving embrace and makes you feel at home.

Darius expresses his doubt and his hope so candidly that it makes you want to give him a hug. His use of SFF pop culture references gives him a distinctiveness and nerdy sense of humor that grounds his character.

Darius is someone I can relate to strongly for multiple reasons: being part of diaspora, dealing with depression, and feeling socially estranged from peers. He struggles with feeling adequate and comfortable in his own skin, an experience that has defined pretty much all of my life, so it was hard not to see myself in him.

The depiction of depression in this story resonated with me in a lot of the details, from the neveremding quest for the right meds, to the self consciousness about taking meds and the unhelpful comments from ignorant people and the difficulty talking about it to family because of language and cultural barriers.

The beauty of this book is that it is so incredibly validating of people like me and Darius. Disappointment, insecurity and despair are tempered by warmth, solidarity, and love.

I love the way Darius’s various relationships are portrayed in this book because they feel so nuanced and real in the way he navigates the line separating distance from intimacy. It’s hard to let yourself be vulnerable when you feel under attack from all sides: from your family, from your peers, from your country’s mainstream culture, from your heritage culture. But Darius is given the chance to do that and he gains so much from it. His friendship with Sohrab is so pure and wholesome, and his interactions with his extended family are bittersweet as they try to bridge the gap between them.

Although I’m not Persian/Iranian, there were aspects of the culture that were relatable for me, such as the centrality of food in all occasions, the range and specificity of familial terms, and the concept of taarof, whose Taiwanese equivalent I just tweeted about the day before reading the book.😂

On a different note, this is one of the few books I’ve read where boys are allowed to be sensitive, to cry, to feel the emotional spectrum fully without the narrative shaming them, and I really appreciate that given the prevalence of toxic masculinity in fictional boys.

Overall, I have to say this is one of my favorite contemporary reads of the year, and i confess it made me tear up near the end in a key scene, so I’m recommending it wholeheartedly.

Content/Trigger Warnings: bullying, homo-antagonism, Islamophobia, fat/body/food-shaming, ableism

AUTHOR BIO:

Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle (SCY) under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. This is his first novel.

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Review for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotle-and-dante

Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find out more about it here.

My Summary: Aristotle and Dante are as different as night and day. Aristotle envies Dante’s talents, confidence, and openness. He feels inferior. He feels lonely. He feels lost. However, when they meet, the two form a bond that changes their lives beyond imagination.

Review:

Trigger/Content Warning(s): transphobia

Well, if I’d had any idea how good this book would be, I would have read it eons ago.

Where do I even begin? It’s difficult to organize my thoughts because there are so many things I want to say about this book. Because this book is so many things at once.

The most obvious one is that it’s about a relationship between two boys, but it’s so much more. It’s also about their relationships with themselves, their families, their histories, their culture, and the society at large.

Ari is such an incredibly relatable character to me. His loneliness, his uncertainty, his repressed feelings, his anger, his pessimism and yearning hope, his self-loathing–these are all familiar to me. Though it’s never explicitly labeled as such, I recognize his depression because I’ve been there, and in many ways, I’m still there.

His reflections on racial and ethnic identity are also a point of connection for me. There are many factors that intersect with race/ethnicity: class, language, immigration history, etc. The ongoing dialogue on the contrast between Ari and Dante’s backgrounds–their skin color, their parents’ education levels and careers, their fluency in Spanish–highlight the ways in which Mexican American identity is constructed and policed. Although I’m not Mexican American, as a second generation child of immigrants, I could definitely relate to the experience of feeling “not authentic enough” to truly belong to my ethnic group.

Beyond race and ethnicity, Ari’s world is shaped by the psychological dysfunction of his family. There is the intergenerational trauma from his veteran father’s unspoken past in Vietnam. There is the silence and deliberate forgetting of his older brother, who has been in prison for over a decade for reasons that Ari does not know. There is the overwhelming feeling that nobody in his family is willing to say what needs to be said.

The effects of this silence on Ari are enormous. He doesn’t know who he is because his family have erased a significant part of their family history and therefore his roots. His capacity to connect with other people outside of his family is stunted. Even as he craves intimacy, he’s averse to letting himself be vulnerable enough to establish trust and deeper bonds with other people. Because he feels that he lacks agency in many ways, he sets up rules to protect himself, but ultimately these rules reinforce his isolation and emotional distance. He doesn’t let anyone in, and he also doesn’t let anything out, which leads to involuntary emotional outbursts down the road.

That’s where Dante comes in. Dante is a foil to Ari: he knows what he wants, he does the things he wants to do, he wears his heart on his sleeve. When Ari looks at Dante, he sees the things he wants to be but can’t achieve. Ironically, even as self-assured and amiable as he is, Dante is also lonely. Their shared loneliness brings them together. And as Ari finds out, Dante has his own inner demons relating to his family.

1987-1988 is an interesting time period for a story like this. It’s nearly 30 years before marriage equality, before LGBTQ folks had much visibility in the mainstream culture. It’s a time before the Internet and instantaneous communication. And yet, it’s still as relevant as ever. Homophobia and heteronormativity are still pervasive, and young LGBTQ people still struggle to come to terms with their identities. Dante’s worries about giving his parents grandkids struck a nerve in me because I, too, felt the pressure to continue my family’s lineage before I came out to my parents.

One of the things I really liked about the book was the disavowal of toxic masculinity. Ari feels alienated from the normative masculinity that the boys at school perform and uphold. He also disparages the boys for their objectification of women. Dante stands in contrast to that kind of masculinity in various ways: he is friendly to everyone and doesn’t play the game of shoring up masculinity through acts of dominance and violence. He expresses his emotions freely and cries when he needs to, even over the death of a bird. Ari doesn’t think Dante is weak for this; he admires him for it and accepts it because that’s who Dante is. The importance of narratives that allow boys and men to be vulnerable and express sadness cannot be stressed enough, in my opinion.

Overall, this book was amazing to me. I marked so many places where I was just like “this, this so much, this is wonderful.” However, I had one thing that really stood out to me as problematic, specifically transphobic. Since I can’t discuss it without revealing an important plot point, I’m putting that part in white text so you can highlight it to read it if you’d like. The reason Ari’s brother is in jail is because he killed a trans woman who was a sex worker. Because of the time period and terminology that was used during that time, Ari describes the sex worker as a “transvestite,”but in our present-day world we’d call her a transgender woman. The issue is that Ari says that the “transvestite” was actually a “guy,” which is what motivated his brother to murder her.

Given our current social climate, in which trans women are regularly being murdered and misgendered because of the continued narrative of “trans women are just men in drag,”the violence of this act cannot be understated. Unfortunately the book does little to counter the ideological violence that resulted in this sex worker’s murder.

Recommendation: I don’t want to dismiss the good parts of this book, so I’m recommending it with the warning that there is that transphobia present, and to read at your discretion.