King Dork by Frank Portman
I forget how, but somehow I stumbled on the title King Dork on Pajiba and decided it was at least worth a shot (might've been my 47,000 recommendations. -- DR). Before reading it though, I told myself I had to read The Catcher in the Rye. I'm glad I did, because knowledge of The Catcher in the Rye is definitely something you're going to want when reading this book. It is referenced, mocked, paralleled, and eventually vindicated, depending on how you look at it.
The story of King Dork, much like Catcher, focuses on a teenage boy who thinks he's above the norm and can see past the veil of normalcy. Thomas Henderson (aka, Chi-Mo) lost his father at an early age, due to a car accident. His mother is a bit spacy, his step father is out of touch, and his sister is a queen bitch in training. His main coping mechanism with life as a teenage outcast? Musical endeavours with his best friend, Sam. Their high school lives are nothing more than dodging bullies, ogling girls, questioning creepy academic professionals, and changing their band name about every two weeks or so.
As if Thomas's life couldn't get any more mixed up, he becomes involved in two quests that may or may not be intertwined. The first is an effort to track down this girl, Fiona, whom he made out with at a party. The second is to decode some sort of coded message system scattered through his father's teenage library, which happens to contain a copy of Catcher in the Rye. The main weight of the book is within these quests, but some of the load is also carried by Tom's ever evolving interactions with his own family. This book, at least from the pull quotes in the back, seems to be trying to set itself apart from "the Catcher Cult," but in fact it aligns itself ever so perfectly as a successor to its throne.
This book reads as if it were "Catcher 2.0", and like it or not Thomas Henderson is the new Holden Caufield; Suburbia is just as soul crushingly lonely as New York; and instead of missing a brother, he misses his father. The music's changed, but the tune is very similar. It's not that King Dork is a bad book (I will cut you. -- DR), it's actually entertaining and pretty funny at times. It's just that it's hard to identify with the protagonist, who sometimes comes off as a little too Juno-esque for his own good (You're killing me! -- DR). Also, he uses acronyms a little too much, which makes it easy to find yourself flipping back a couple pages to try and decipher what the hell he's talking about (There's a glossary at the end of the book. --DR). Which, one would think, is a good way of separating the two factions of the audience: teenagers who read this and the parents who are trying to understand them. You either get it, and you eat a book like this up over the course of a couple days (Yes! -- DR) ...or you don't, and you wade through it for a couple months (Boo! -- DR). (Or, more applicable in this case, you fall smack dab in the middle and you take a couple weeks.)
Then, of course, there's the central mystery of Thomas's father. It has a decent build up, decent followthrough, but in the end it just muddles itself into obscurity. Which is a shame, because it starts to ramp back up towards the end of the book, after being dropped a little in the middle section. That ramp up, however, leads to nothing. It should be noted that this is Portman's first book, but that's still not a complete excuse for what could have happened here. On the "First Book" spectrum, it's smack dab in the middle of the best (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and the worst (Twilight). It's mildly entertaining, and I'd highly recommend it for teenagers. Parents, on the other hand, just won't understand (Hey! I'm a parent! -- DR)
And now, in honor of King Dork, I'd like to share some punk band names that I've created myself:
- Crock Pot Abortion (thanks to Revolutionary Road)
- Marshmallow FUCK! (a yell of frustration while shopping for s'mores supplies)
- Muppet Death Threat (a thought that occured one day after thinking about Elmo)
- Sister Mary Francis and the Cocksucking Extravaganza (special thanks to my brother Nick for the second part of the name)
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details about here and the growing number of participants and their blogs, from which these reviews are pulled, are here. And check here for more of Mike R.'s reviews.