by Adib Khorram
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Teenager Darius Kellner is clinically depressed and the target of bullies, which his dad thinks is Darius’ fault. He’s not your typical nerdy, Trekkie teen, because he also has an obsession with tea that comes from his Persian side of the family. He’s never been to Iran to meet his grandparents, but gets the opportunity when his mom learns that her father has a brain tumor. Their trip is loaded with significance and sadness, but also brings Darius new understanding of himself, his roots, and especially his father. He also makes what appears to be his first best friend ever, in his grandparents’ neighbor, Sohrab.
Among really cool things I learned a lot about: Darius’ grandparents are Zoroastrian and Sohrab is Baha’i, so there’s a fair amount about both religions and Persian culture generally. Both religions are minorities in Iran, which has some social/political dynamics that I was unaware of. There are mosques everywhere and they visit over Nowruz, the Persian new year – not to mention the culture of taarof, or back-and-forth offering and declining of hospitality, which Darius is not very good at. He feels most acutely American when he fails to taarof correctly and also when others speak Farsi around him, which he doesn’t understand.
Sohrab’s father was unjustly jailed years ago, and they receive upsetting news about him, causing Sohrab to lash out at Darius (who, to be fair, isn’t exactly comforting). This isn’t their first fight, in the few short weeks they’ve known each other; their first day, Sohrab takes him to play soccer with his nemesis, who teases Darius for being uncircumcised, and Darius is understandably upset with Sohrab for putting him in that position and for not standing up for him. But I loved how their friendship developed, and how hard it was for Darius to leave him behind and return to the U.S. They had many poignant moments of quiet, gentle friendship. And when Darius returns home, his own bully bothers him a little less, and his bully’s sidekick is downright nice to him.
What I loved most, though, was how Darius’ relationship with his dad developed. He was in Iran with his mom’s family, but he sees his dad through their eyes, and they have some lovely and also hard conversations about themselves and their relationship. While nothing is completely fixed, there is great hope for the future.