159: Adib Khorram's DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY - January Book Club
In the first book club discussion of 2021, we are thrilled to discuss Adib Khorram's Darius the Great Is Not Okay. This brilliant young adult lit book addresses so many important topics including family heritage, bullying, friendship, family dynamics, managing depression, and so many other issues with nuance and humor. If you're interested in discussing this one, it's also our Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read this month! We'll be talking about it on January 11th and 25th on Instagram. Just message us to join!
Ashley - Marie Lu’s Skyhunter
Jen - Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers
Sara - Rachel Hawkins’s The Wife Upstairs
Ashley - David Yoon’s Frankly in Love
Jen - Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Sara - Sarah Moon’s Sparrow
Mentioned in Episode
Charles Portis’s True Grit
A. S. King’s Everybody Sees the Ants
Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom
Neil Shusterman’s Scythe
Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Give Me One - A Series You Want to Finish but Haven't
Listen in to hear our responses to this great topic suggested by one of our Unabridged Ambassadors! (Click to learn more about the ambassador program!)
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Jen said, "So we are recording in December, and I am trying to finish the last few books I need for my reading challenges. One of them that I needed for the Tournament of Books is Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. So I just started that one yesterday. I absolutely love it. It is a Western—it kind of reminds me of Charles Portis's True Grit in its tone and its dry wit.
"This is about two brothers whose last name is Sisters. It's Charles and Eli, and Eli is narrating. They are bounty hunters, basically, who traveled around the United States to kill people, and so they are on their way to California to kill someone for their boss, and they have a lot of problems. Charles is an alcoholic and is constantly getting so sick that they have to stay at a hotel for extra time. [Eli] is always trying to improve himself—at one point he goes on a diet because he feels like he wants to find love, and that will help him find love with this particular woman who basically tells him that he's too overweight for her. So he keeps having these moments where he's trying to be healthier or trying to get slimmer or trying to be kinder, and then inevitably something happens and he's just right back in the fact that he's an assassin who was traveling across the country to kill someone . . . which I know all sounds really horrible. But it's that dark humor, and I absolutely love it.
"I'm a big fan of westerns. I grew up watching a lot of them with my dad. And it's a great read. I wasn't expecting to be enjoying it quite as much. But it's really, really good. So that is Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers."
Sara shared, "I am reading Rachel Hawkins's The Wife Upstairs. I got this on Libro.fm's ALC program, and so I'm listening to it, and it's fantastic on audio. Lately I'm having a really difficult time reading, and I'm trying to pick books that are going to capture my interest and have a compelling plot so I can get back into reading because it's been really difficult. I have all these awesome literary fiction books that I need to read, but I just I'm having a tough time.
"Anyway, I'm really excited about The Wife Upstairs because I knew it was a suspense thriller type of book, and I tell you, I'm almost finished, so I'm going to really try not to give any spoiler, but it has been very compelling. The premise of the book is that there is this character named Jane, and the book opens with her, and she is a dog walker in this kind of high-class neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, and one of the days when she's walking the dog, she accidentally-on-purpose meets this man who she finds has lost his wife, that she is missing. Jane has a sketchy past that is a mystery throughout the book, and there are these moments where the man seems really sketchy, but there are also these interspersing chapters of the wife who has gone missing.
"That is Rachel Hawkins's The Wife Upstairs. That comes out—we're recording in December—so that comes out January 5, so it's a new release."
Ashley said, "I am reading Marie Lu's Skyhunter. I feel like I have said on here—probably not as much as I feel in my heart—but I love Marie Lu. So I have got gushed about that at least a little bit. I don't know that it is to the full degree, but I just love her works, and I think one of the things I really love is that she does a great job of grounding you as the reader in a world that is not our current world. I have found with fantasy and sci fi, I'm not so adept of a reader in those genres that I can just go wherever the author wants you to go, but she does a really nice job.
"This one is post apocalyptic, it is clearly quite futuristic. It appears that our world is long gone, and there are kind of the old ones that they only know little bits and pieces of what our structure was like, but they do have these societies in place. There is an empire of sorts that's working to dominate all these different independent countries. Talin is the main character: she was a refugee, and her country was absorbed by the Empire, so she and her mom fled. It was brutal. she experienced becoming a refugee, and then she faces a lot of the real-life discrimination that refugees often face, and so there's a lot of that in the book. So she's in Mara, but she is not Maran. . . .
"She makes a friend early on in her life, and when that happens, she is able to become Striker and that is kind of an elite, kind of like an army position where they are combat fighters. He's her partner, and because he vouched for her, even though she's a refugee, she's able to become a striker, but her role is always a little bit tenuous because it's linked to his status essentially, and so they're fighters. The job of the strikers is to go out to the frontier, kind of like their border lands, and there are these Ghosts, these genetically modified creatures that used to be human, and they're somewhat zombie like . . .
"It's a very compelling story. But I love how Marie Lu is exploring a lot of the complex issues like refugee status in our world, but she does it within these dystopian, futuristic, postapocalyptic societies. . . . So, again, that's Marie Lu, and this is her new one that came out this fall called Skyhunter, and it's the first in the series."
Main Discussion - Book Club: Adib Khorram's Darius the Great Is Not Okay
After discussing the book, we each shared our pairings.
Sara chose Sarah Moon's Sparrow. "This book is about a girl named Sparrow. She has difficulty making friends. She would rather stay home with her mom on the weekends then then play with others. And so she's really been lonely in school, and she had a teacher who was a librarian that really meant a lot to her and would let her eat lunch in the library at school so she didn't have to be around people. The teacher passes away unexpectedly, and it kind of sends Sparrow into a spiral.
"So why I think this is a good pairing for Darius the Great Is Not Okay is because this book addresses mental health issues: it talks about therapy and how therapy can help, and the book is about Sparrow working through things in her life, and with the help of her therapist and some different types of alternative type things that she can do to help herself kind of get through what she's going through at the moment. So I think that it has some of those mental health aspects that Darius the Great addresses, and I think that it's a really quick read. . . . I think it would be a great option for students kind of playing on the same thing of a teenager, a teenager who is lonely, she's not comfortable in her own skin and is working through mental health issues."
Jen chose Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. "We did this one . . . it's been a few seasons, but it's it's an earlier episode, one of our book clubs, but we all love this book, and I think there are a number of parallels with Darius the Great Is Not Okay. I think one of them is that the protagonist, Julia, is also dealing with mental illness, and she is trying to work her way through that. She has a lot of cultural expectations, particularly from her mom, that she is just not sure she wants to follow the way her mom thinks things should be done, and just on the surface, there's also this really revelatory trip for Julia where she goes back to her parents' home village in Mexico, and that trip for her is this clarifying experience that just helps her to see herself in a different way, just as Darius's trip with his family to Iran helps him understand himself better.
"So I think that one too, had some humor to it, but also some dark moments, and in that story, just to give you a tiny bit of summary, Julia's sister has just died, and Julia's sister was the perfect Mexican daughter, and Julia was continually comparing herself to her sister and thinking of herself as . . . well, she is not the perfect Mexican daughter, so she for a long time sort of escaped her parents' expectations a little bit because their sister was there, but then when they all descend upon her, she really struggles with it. In that case, Julia's sister is older, so that's different from Darius and his little sister Laleh, but I also think we see that siblings compare themselves to the other. Sometimes it can, that comparison can be really damaging, even if you really love your sibling. I think these books are very resonant with each other."
Ashley's pick was David Yoon's Frankly in Love. She explained, "I had a lot that came to my mind for this one too., so maybe we'll do a bookish fave that celebrates some of these young adult books that I think hit on a lot of these issues of mental health or bullying. I think there are a lot of great ones out there that may not cover such a spectrum that this book does but that can address some of the issues within this one. I wanted to share David Yoon's Frankly in Love, and David and Nicola Yoon are another are another one I have fangirled a lot about, but I wanted to share this one because I think . . . so, Frank Li is that main character, hence the pun in the title, and he is Korean American, and he actually calls himself a Limbo because that is his classification for people who are neither what he deems true Koreans, nor American.
"I think that the part of the book that complements this one so well is that exploration of identity and how your own identity as a kid who is born in America grows up in America but has a parent of a cultural heritage that is different than American, the struggles of all of that. I think the exact same types of things that Darius is working through with Farsi and with the tea making, and you know, what is considered normal for Persians versus what he loves as a tea maker, Frank Li is navigating a lot of that as well, and he has all these expectations from his parents that are he feels are forced upon him, but he does love them. I think that part is similar to that his relationship with his parents is not perfect, but it's also not terrible, and he is wanting to please them. But he also, like we all find, especially for teens, he also wants to live his own life and make his own choices, and so he's really navigating that. The struggles for him are a lot related to romance, and a big thing for his parents is that they want him to date Korean girls only, so he is working through that in a lot of the book, so it is a light read in some ways, but it does touch on a lot of really important issues."
Give Me One - A Series You Want to Finish but Haven't
We finished the episode by each offering a series that we hope to get back to reading soon!
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