Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review: King Dork

Title King Dork
Author Frank Portman
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating B-

Summary Tom Henderson is a nothing at school--taking hits from students of all social classes (and some teachers and school administrators as well). However, when he finds his dead father's copy of The Cather in the Rye, and stumbles upon a cipher that links his dad's teenage library (which is available for perusal in their basement), he starts to see the world differently. (And he finds out that being in a band has the potential to get you some major action with the ladies.)

First Line "It started with a book."

Review I've been really lucky lately, reading and reviewing some funny books. (Check out my reviews of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and Lost It.) And this one didn't fail in that regard either. Nor was it perfect.

I heartily enjoyed Tom, and his family and friends were sufficiently complex to keep me interested. What did allow my interest to wane was the "mystery" surrounding his father's adolescence and death. In theory they were interesting, but the mystery was really complex and (eventually it comes out that) a great deal of the mystery you've been slogging through was random and not relevant to the plot or character growth of the protagonist. All of that silliness just made the book easy to put down at points.

But the wry humor made the times when I was reading pretty enjoyable. Check out this scene when Tom is introducing us to his stepfather:

"The current man in my mom's life, technically my stepfather, is a full-on hippie... There's just no getting around it. He'd say 'former hippie' probably, but that's too fine a distinction in my book.
Our official legal relationship is pretty recent, though he's been around for quite a while. I don't know why they decided to get married all of a sudden. They went away for a weekend to see Neil Young in Big Sur and somehow came back married. They still refer to each other as partners, though, rather than husband-wife. 'Have you met my partner, Carol?' Like they're lawyers who work in the same law firm, or cops who share a squad car. Or cowboys in the Wild West. 'Howdy, pardner.'
Unfortunately, Carol's [his mom's] dogie-wranglin' varmint-lickin' yella-bellied pardner's name happens to be Tom also. Just my luck.
He has tried to establish the system where I call him Big Tom and he calls me Little Dude. So that any observers (like, say, if someone planted a spy cam in the TV room) could tell us apart. See, you can't have two Toms in the same room. It would be too confusing for the viewer. Well, he can call me what he likes, but I hardly ever say anything at all, so it never comes up from my end. He's the one who calls himself Big Tom. Which is funny because he's very small for a full-grown man. The spy cam doesn't lie: Big Tom is little," (p. 25).
That gives you a taste of Tom (aka, Little Dude's) take on the world. He's pretty spot-on with his assessments. Like when he cuts through all the B.S. surrounding the "coming-of-age" masterpiece Catcher in the Rye and he talks about how the title of CitR comes from a mis-quoted poem by Holden Caulfield where he imagines he's standing at the edge of a field of rye and catches kids who are too close to the edge and puts them safely back in the field, but Tom Henderson thinks the field of rye is a metaphor for life and people trying to make us conform and says, "I'm rooting for the kids and hoping they get out while they can. And as for you, Holden, old son: if you happen to meet my body coming through the rye, I'd really appreciate it if you'd just stand aside and get out of my fucking way," (p. 247).

There is definitely spicy language and quite a bit of teenage "yearning" (and second-hand accounts of third base), but the humor and insights of this book are worth the read. [I'd recommend checking it out from the library or picking up a used copy to save your money, and preparing to read it with an open mind.]

Recommendation Teens who like to think, who like to question, and who like to consider where they fit into the big cogs of the world.

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