King Dork (by Frank Portman)

18 03 2012

King Dork came to the cat by way of Forever Young Adult, whose writers compiled a Bad-Ass Guide to YA Books. The only author I had never heard of was Frank Portman, whose 2006 debut novel King Dork, has also been optioned as a movie, scheduled to be directed by Matt Piedmont of SNL fame. The fact that Frank Portman was virtually unknown to the cat says more about her own inaptitude than anything about King Dork’s lack of brilliance. Because brilliant, it is! King Dork is that forgotten gem, the book you wish you could read for the first time over and over again. It’ll have you snicker at its inappropriate humor one sentence and it’ll have you grin like a dork the next.

Tom Henderson is King Dork, a.k.a. Chi-Mo, short for a nickname given to him by “normal” meanies at school, after a career guidance test, concluding he should consider a career in the clergy – you figure out what it means… Tom is more than a bit of a loner at school, his only friend being the guy who happened to stand next in line to him alphabetically – Sam Hellerman. Luckily, they more or less have the same interests, namely being in a band (but not actually playing any instruments…yet) and continuously finding better band names (Tennis with Guitars really stood out, though Balls Deep does have a certain je ne sais quoi as well) and kick-ass song titles, the most infamous of which turns out to be “I Saw Mr. Teone Checking Out Kyrsten Blakeney’s Ass!”, a song which will lead Tom to unraveling the mystery of his dead father and his book collection (one of which is of course – how could it not be – The Catcher in the Rye).

King Dork is the type of book that will undoubtedly get a lot of anti-votes when it comes down to voting for the most politically correct YA novel… Many will ask the question whether this is really such an appropriate book for teenagers, what with the quasi-gratuitous blow jobs and all, or the not so concealed references to teens using other teens to get their hands of their mother’s prescription drugs.  I wouldn’t say the book is inappropriate for teens because of this particular content, though I do think that a lot on teens will not get all the music and other references in the book, which is a damn shame of course, but which could be a huge incentive for them to start doing some cultural investigations of their own – hey maybe their parents’ collections aren’t that tragically uncool after all… And it’s of course all of that plus the utter satire and self-consciousness of the protagonist that makes King Dork a snicker-fest for the not so Young Adults amongst us.

Something that is of and for all ages, though is the fact that Tom Henderson is an all-out rebel against the conventions of high school life, which in his case is personified by the importance The Catcher in the Rye plays in his high school career. For Tom, the sanctity of The Catcher in the Rye is something for people who grew up in the sixties, like his teachers, his parents, LBT (Little Big Tom, his stepfather) etc. and whatever made Holden Caulfield such a rebel/role model for that generation is what makes Holden, err… phony for Tom Henderson’s generation.  Tom Henderson conveniently mocks the whole tradition of self-referential teenage literature throughout his whole stream-of-consciousness rants, crossing over to flat-out parody and satire, but at the same time he manages to be damn entertaining, adding not just entertainment, but a dash of mystery and a whole lot of (un)resolved sexual tension between himself and fake-mod girl called (or not?) Fiona.

King Dork is deliciously incorrect: it’s for self-proclaimed nerds (Nerdfighters, John Green blurbed this book!), there’s teenage cruelty (how could there not, it deals with the tribe called high school teens), the girls are either sinners or they’re saints (nothing in between), the guys are either weird, dorks and sex-obsessed,  or evil, popular and sex-obsessed. And yet, this book is hilarious, absurd and nothing short of the book you have to read when you are 16… come to think of it, but Tom Henderson could very well stand next in line to Holden Caulfield as the guy you wish you’d known way back in high school, and Frank Portman managed to map the confusion that identifies adolescence much in the same way as J.D. Salinger, or even more recent Stephen Chbosky. Even despite the slightly abrupt ending, this is a five-star book!



2 responses

22 12 2012
The 12 of 2012! « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] King Dork (Frank Portman) […]

18 09 2013
The Pigman (by Paul Zindel) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] quintessential piece of literature (e.g. it’s more than casually referenced on Frank Portman’s King Dork, and in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and John Green has almost made it his mission to stress […]

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