Not really a review of King Dork by Frank Portman

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To say this post is overdue would be quite an understatement. I started reading King Dork, a novel by Frank Portman, during the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon on April 10, and finished it the following week. It’s one of the funniest, and most fun, books I’ve read in my life. In the same way that I read passages aloud to Jeff as I progressed through the story, I knew I’d have to post a blog about the book, because it’s just too hysterical, you have to share some parts of the hilarity with other people. So this probably shouldn’t be seen as a review of the book, but more an appreciation. Page numbers are from my own copy of the book, the trade paperback by Delacorte Press, 2006.

The story is narrated by the main character, Tom Henderson, a tenth-grader at Hillmont High School. Tom’s father died in a car crash about six years before the novel opens, and his mom has recently remarried. Tom’s step-father is also named Tom, and he likes to call himself Big Tom and his step-son Little Dude. However, throughout the book, the narrator refers to his step-dad as Little Big Tom, or LBT, because he’s quite short. King Dork also has a younger sister named Amanda.

Tom has one friend, Sam Hellerman. Here’s Tom’s description of their relationship:

       I know Sam Hellerman because he was the guy right before me in alphabetical order from the fourth through eighth grades. You spend that much time standing next to somebody, you start to get used to each other.
       He’s the closest thing I have to a friend, and he’s an all-right guy. I don’t know if he realizes that I don’t bring much to the table, friendship-wise. I let him do most of the talking. I usually don’t have a comment.
(p. 8)

       He always has lots to say. He can manage for both of us. We spend a lot of time over each other’s houses watching TV and playing games. There’s a running argument about whose house is harder to take. … [H]e usually wins and comes to my house because I’ve got a TV in my room and he doesn’t. TV can really take the edge off. Plus, he has a taste for prescription tranquilizers, and my mom is his main unwitting supplier. (p. 9)

Tom and Sam are also “in a band” together, though they mainly just pick a band name, design a logo, choose pseudonyms for themselves, decide upon a couple of album titles, and then after a week or two, they pick a NEW band name and the whole process begins again. Tom also writes song lyrics. During the whole book, Tom never refers to his friend as “Sam,” but always as “Sam Hellerman,” every single time. Some might find that annoying, but I have to say, I loved it.

Some information about Tom’s mother, in addition to the fact that she takes prescription tranquilizers:

       Sometimes I accuse my mom of being a hippie, though that’s an exaggeration. She just likes to think of herself as more sensitive and virtuous and free-spirited than thou. If that dream leads her down some puzzling or slightly embarrassing avenues in a variety of neighborhoods, it’s not the world’s biggest tragedy. “I’m a very spiritual person,” she likes to say, for instance. Like when she’s explaining how she hates religion and all those who practice it. Well, okay, if it makes you feel better, Carol. She’s really about as spiritual as my gym shorts, but I love her anyway. (p. 23)

While the social aspects of life at Hillmont High School are difficult for a lot of kids, and even dangerous at times for those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder (like Tom and Sam), the academics are “shockingly easy,” according to Tom:

       Assignments typically involve copying a page or two from some book or other. Sometimes you have a “research paper,” which means that the book you copy out of is the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. You’re graded on punctuality, being able to sit still, and sucking up. (p. 11)

Tom has an interesting view of The Catcher in the Rye, a book that becomes a central part of the plot:

       Oh, wait: I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties. It is every teacher’s favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a real dreamboat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.
       It’s kind of like a cult.
(p. 12)

I’ve tried to share passages from the book that give you a sense of Tom’s voice and everyday life (primarily school, family, his “band,” and Sam Hellerman). I haven’t even touched on the unresolved questions about his father’s death, his bizarre encounter with a girl named Fiona, how finding his father’s copy of Catcher and several other of his dad’s books leads to some amateur sleuthing, or the wacky supporting characters who add to the amusement. There’s also a glossary at the end, and a list of all the band names and album titles Tom and Sam go through in the novel. It’s just genius.

King Dork is usually found in the young adult section of the bookstore, but be aware that there are sexual situations and a lot of swearing, so younger teens and pre-teens probably shouldn’t read it, and the same goes for adults who are likely to be offended by the language or some of the subject matter. But if you don’t mind those things, and you ever felt like a misfit or an outsider in your younger days, find a copy of King Dork and have the last laugh.

© All the parts of my life 2008-2015.

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