The Good, The Bad & The Meh: Darius The Great Deserves Better (Book Review)

    Coming two years after the original book, the continuation of Darioush Kellner’s story hits the right note at times. Unfortunately, it also lives up to its name – Darius The Great Deserves Better.

    Picking up a few months after the “Fractional Persian” boy’s trip to Iran, Darius finds himself navigating the waters of a romantic relationship, a part-time internship, and the occasional drama of varsity soccer. To be more precise – Darius has got the hots for hot jock Chip Cusumano!

    Unfortunately, these aren’t the only murky waters our character has to explore. Throw in the reappearance of his father’s depressive episodes and the awkward presence of two grandmothers that he can’t talk to, and the result is a book with many compelling topics with not enough time spent on them.

    The Good

    Exploring Laleh’s experience with school bullies. Although worthy of more visibility, the short time spent dealing with this issue was a novel highlight. For one, it helped strengthen Laleh and Darius’ relationship as brother and sister. It also developed Laleh’s strength of character as a Fractional Persian living in America.

    The introduction of the father’s side of the family. If the previous story focuses on the warm and affectionate Mamou and Babou, the sequel introduces us to the cold side of Stephen’s family. Contrasting the original book, Darius’ attempts to approach less welcoming family members makes for an interesting read. It also makes way for the introduction of an exceptional queer character, as one of Darius’ grandmothers is a Trans Woman. Although it’s a shame her character wasn’t explored enough, the little glimpses the author offers are worth the read. They develop not only the extensive genealogy of the book, but also the extension of two personalities. In the form of Darius’ self-knowledge, and Stephen’s personal background.

    Darius’ attitude towards sex. While many coming-of-age books portray teenagers as sex-driven, Deserves Better does well in handling the issue of sex through the lens of its main character. Darius is still working through his body image issues and has just recently managed to open up the emotional well inside him. So, naturally, taking such a big step feels scary. This outlines his at times strong character. Although his boyfriend’s behavior borders on that of a manipulator, he doesn’t give in to pressure.

    Bonus point: The representation of a sports team as a supportive circle of friends in Darius’ life. It is a breath of fresh air to read about a queer teenager finding shelter in a community of athletes. Darius’ varsity soccer teammates, for the most part, offer our main character a net of trust and safety.

    The Bad

    The Kellner-Edwards-Cusumano love triangle’s dictatorial command of the plot. The problem is not that there is a love triangle in the book to begin with. After all, it is a common YA trope found in many novels. But when almost every aspect of the story boils down to it, it hurts the book’s complexity. It’s especially painful how the presented subplots would enrich the overarching focus of the book with more attention given. Alas, they receive the back seat treatment in favor of a love triangle that isn’t all that interesting.

    The absurdity of the love triangle. Even though Darius has a boyfriend, he develops feelings for the best friend of his tormenter. For the sake of the argument, it’s true that people often don’t get to choose who they grow an attachment to. The problem is, towards the end of the book, Darius outright declares that he might go for this crush someday. Although teenagers make bad decisions, this one is out of character for our lead. Especially since most of the feelings towards this person prove to be physical.

    Lack of sincere focus on the familial aspect. If one aspect made the first book in the Darius series great, it was the overarching theme of family. While it’s still present, the story feels disconnected from its predecessor’s nature. As a result, it leaves those wishing to read complex family interaction at a disadvantage.

    Mundane Side-Characters. Landon doesn’t read like an interesting personality, aside from the fact that he progressively gets more insufferable. Trent’s character is a watered-down version of a Disney Channel bully. And while Chip is the most developed addition, there’s still something missing. Another offense is the grandmothers. While they had great potential to be remarkable characters, only sparks of that remain with the reader.

    The Meh

    Darius’ (sort of) character development and why it is one step forward, two steps back. It’s admirable how the author attempted portraying the oftentimes tough reality of people growing out of their dreams. But Darius quitting his job two seconds after someone suggesting so is disappointing. First of all, it implies that Darius isn’t willing to fight for improvements. And what’s worse, it also gives the feeling that as a person, he has to be told what to do to.

    The mediocre development of the mother. Darius’ mother was given less attention than in the first book, which is strange since the pressure falls directly on her most of the time this time around. Again, there are moments, but they simply won’t prove enough for many.

    The Verdict

    For a follow-up of a strong authorial debut, the sequel barely holds onto the ideas that made the original so compelling.

    While it has its moments and makes for an easy read, the lack of clear focus due to its subplots receiving second-hand treatment in favor of a tedious love triangle makes Darius The Great Deserves Better less of a quality continuation and more like a glorified side-story.

    One might wonder if this was the right way to continue beloved Darius’ journey.