Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Cover for Darius the Great Deserves Better

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (9780593108239)

This second book about Darius takes place after he returns home from his family’s visit to Iran. A lot has changed since he made his first real friend in Iran, someone he still talks with often and considers his best friend. Now Darius is on the school soccer team and has a boyfriend. He works at a tea store that his boyfriend’s father owns, immersing himself in something he loves. But his family is struggling with money and with his father taking more jobs where he has to travel, his grandmothers move in to help. Darius can’t help but notice how different his grandmothers are than his mother’s family in Iran. He works to connect with them, but doesn’t make much headway. His relationship may not be as great as he though either, since Landon wants to move a lot faster than Darius is ready for. Plus a boy on his soccer team is becoming a closer friend, though he did used to bully Darius. Nothing is simple or easy in this second book, as Darius continues to learn about himself.

Returning to the world of Darius was amazing. Khorram’s writing is marvelous, exuding a natural warmth in his storytelling. His empathy for Darius is clear, as Darius struggles with what he is ready for, what family means to him, and who he wants to have in his life. Even his relationship with tea becomes problematic, as he may lose something he loves because he fears failure so much. And beware how much you will want to try some of the teas mentioned here, because Darius is passionate about them!

Darius is hero material. Thoughtful and sometimes depressed, he is complex and marvelous. From his best friend in Iran to his boyfriend to his new friendships on the soccer team, Darius is brave and manages to continue coming out through this new novel. He faces fear in ways that preserve what he loves, sets real boundaries to keep true to himself, and manages to be hilariously funny too.

Another great Darius book. Can there please be a third? Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Cover for Every Body Looking

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (9780525556206)

Ada has grown up living with her Nigerian father, her mother a ghost moving in and out of her life because of her struggles with addiction. Ada was not a petite little thing, instead thick waisted and with a hairy upper lip, her clothes boyish, she didn’t make friends easily at school. Now Ada is off at college, the first time she has been able to make decisions on her own. Her time at a Historically Black College has her exploring her sexuality and looking more deeply at her childhood. She is also steadily being drawn into dance, helped by one of her only friends at college, a girl who isn’t a student there. Suddenly, Ada’s strong body makes sense as she expresses herself through dance, taking ownership of her body and her past.

Iloh’s verse novel is pure power. She writes so much truth in these pages, directly talking about sexual abuse, playing touching games with other children, and the expectations of conformity at young ages around appearance. She also shows through emotion, sex and introspection that there is a way forward, as long as you are true to yourself and what you want to do with your life. Her verses are searing at times, other times like a dream, and still others a call to action. She writes with such compassion and courage here that it’s incredible that this is her first novel.

Ada is a marvelous character, full of trauma from her childhood, cared for by a father who was doing his very best for her, which sometimes was not enough. Just the poems about therapy as a small child are insightful and achingly raw, full of such confusion. It is Ada’s triumph in finding her own path that is full of music and dance that offers hope to the reader and inspiration as well.

Powerful, honest and triumphant. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles (9780062349217)

When Del’s mother starts going to church, she drags him along with her. The only thing that gets Del through those dull sermons is watching Kiera Westing, a girl he’s had a crush on since kindergarten. Even better, for the first time ever, Kiera is single! Now it’s up to Del to figure out a way to get close to her. When he sees Kiera joining a group of other students up at the front of the church, Del joins them, not realizing that he’s agreed to be part of the Purity Pledge, not to have sex until marriage. But maybe this is the key to get Kiera’s attention. He knows that his reputation makes him an unlikely participant, since everyone’s heard about the orgy that happened Freshman year. Del, with the help of a new friend, decides to play the long game and prove his pure intent. Along the way, he becomes friends with the other kids doing the Pledge and finds himself taking their sex-related questions to the sex-ed teacher at school, a class none of the other Pledge kids are allowed to attend. Del is sure he has Kiera just where he wants her, but he has yet to realize that Kiera has to be just where she wants to be too.

I am so pleased to see a book about toxic masculinity with a male protagonist who wakes up to the flaws in his intricate plans just a bit too late. Del is a marvelous hero of the book, filled with personal flaws, intelligent but also conniving. He sees himself as a good guy, but others don’t see him that way and readers will recognize that he’s not being honest with anyone, not even himself. Readers will root for Del even as he is manipulating Kiera and others around him. That is one of the best twists of the book, as readers nod along with Del, they too will realize the way they are seeing women and girls, and the changes they need to make to not be toxic themselves. 

The clear writing and varied characters make this a great choice. It is the nuanced way that Giles writes about the church and being a male African-American teenager that adds a rich depth to the book. He offers readers opportunities to learn, to grow and to realize things about themselves without ever being preachy about it. 

A frank look at sex, lies and toxic masculinity with a main character to cheer for, despite it all. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.