Monthly Archives: March 2019

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram

Darius the GreatDarius has never met his Iranian grandparents face to face, although he dutifully participates in the incredibly awkward weekly online phone call. Now, however, his babou is seriously ill, and the whole family is boarding a plane in just a few days.

Not that he will be sorry to take a break from the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy at school, but the trip will throw him into very close quarters with his dad, whose German ancestry and Aryan appearance have earned him the name The Übermensch—but only in Darius’ mind. Darius inherited his mom’s Persian looks, along with his dad’s tendency to clinical depression. The two of them bond each evening over an episode of Star Trek. Otherwise, Darius is convinced that his father thinks of him only with disappointment.

In Iran, where he is called Darioush, his whole family visits the ruins of his namesake’s palace. They stay in Iran long enough to celebrate several Zoroastrian holidays, and Darioush learns to love his grandmother, Mamou, and to be wary of Babou. He makes his first real friend, Sohrab, who is a soccer fanatic and convinces him to play almost every day. Darioush finds out that he is not a bad player; he might even be talented. The depression never leaves, though, and as family dynamics are rearranged, Darius is confused about where he fits in, or if he does at all.

Darius is one of the most lovable characters ever written. I had purchased this book for the library, of course, but had not read it until it won awards in January’s ALA Youth Media Awards. I started this teen-boy novel dubiously, but was drawn in when it opened in the tea shop where Darius works. I thought I was a dedicated tea drinker, but this guy is a serious tea connoisseur. His passion for tea is woven throughout the entire book. Once he got to the part about watching Star Trek every day, I was in. Throw in Zoroastrianism, which I find fascinating, and the fact that Darius reads The Lord of the Rings whenever he has a moment of quiet, and I was ready to adopt this kid. He is also a tender and loving older brother, although his sister’s precocity does cause some realistic sibling tension.

A complete change in environment sometimes allows us to have a new perspective on things that are so familiar that we can’t see them anymore, and tragedies force us all to grow and change. Perhaps saying goodbye to Sohrab revealed deeper feelings than Darius expected. Perhaps confronting his dad revealed the struggling man beneath the Übermensch. Perhaps going home will never be the same.

Family, culture, love, and the desire to belong fill this coming-of-age novel that is very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer.

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Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary Schmidt

Pay Attention Carter JonesIt was pouring outside and screaming inside the day the butler showed up on the Jones’s doorstep. Well, not a butler per se, but a gentleman’s gentleman. Not that there were any gentlemen for Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick to serve in Carter’s house—not yet, anyway—but only Carter, his mom, and a bunch of younger sisters. And the reason why Carter is the only male in his house is the unfolding and sorrowful mystery of his story.

Like Jeeves stepping into Wooster’s dissolute life, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick stepped into the Jones household and imposed calm and order. He made everyone tea and forced them to like it. He knew how to fix little girls’ hair, and, since Mom’s Jeep had broken down, he drove them all to school in a huge purple car that Carter called The Eggplant. As each child left the car, he brought his vast umbrella around, leaned down, and said, “Make good decisions and remember who you are.”

Carter is having a hard time remembering who he is since his dad has not come home from his military deployment for some time, and he seems to have stopped answering Carter’s emails. The sense of dread the reader feels as this situation develops creeps higher as the pages turn. Someone else is also missing from Carter’s life, but he works hard to avoid thinking about that.

Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick seems to know far more than is possible, but he plans to cure all of life’s ills with cricket. The game. He takes over Carter’s school’s front lawn, and somehow the coach is swept along with the butler’s unstoppable will. He plans practices on Saturdays, even though they take place at the same time as Ace Robotroid and the Robotroid Rangers. Soon the diverse student body seems to reside in the English countryside.

Gary Schmidt is a professor at Calvin College and one of the finest children’s authors around, and he always writes with a light and humorous hand that only highlights the heartbreak beneath. Children’s lives are filled with challenges every day: schoolwork, making friends, pleasing teachers and parents, and trying to figure out life as they go. When tragedies occur or the adults in their lives have major problems, the children carry these burdens inside themselves, too, even when they are expected to continue with their regular routine. Everyone needs a Jeeves to step in and straighten it all out.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones is fun, sweet, and deeply moving. It’s perfect for readers ten and up and anyone who wants to learn the intricacies of that marker of all that is good and noble in society: cricket.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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