King Dork by Frank Portman

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King Dork by Frank Portman

While he was home on "winter break", my boyfriend and I were having a discussion about the books we like to read. Generally, he makes fun of me for reading "teen" books (which, as you know, I do), and I make fun of him for reading "basically-the-same-book-over-and-over-again" (He likes looooonnnnnng epic fantasy series like Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth)*.

He had just finished the Sword of Truth series and I was trying to practice my readers advisory skills on him, so I could find out what he likes about them (hey, a girl sometimes needs gift ideas ;) ), and he started talking about how "real" they are.

Okay, now you're probably thinking what I was thinking -- real? fantasy? Those two words don't normally go together, but in this case what he meant (and I'm paraphrasing here), is that within the fantasy world of the series, everything that happens fits into the reality that the author has created -- that the world, and the characters in it are three dimensional, and so, to the reader, they seem "real".

I realized that in my own reading recently, that quality of "real"-ness to be that one important, indescribable thing that separates a really good book from a book that I absolutely adore.

And I adored King Dork because it was real to me.

I've been thinking about this review for a long time, mainly because some of my fellow cybils committee members strongly disliked it (see Jackie's review here ) -- so I really wanted to justify my love, nay adoration, for this novel.

But I should probably tell you at least a little bit about the basic plot first -- Tom Henderson (also known by a variety of nicknames such as King Dork and Chi-Mo) is your average high-school misfit, highly intelligent, not many friends, we all know the type. His father died when he was very young, his mother has remarried, and he knows very little about his father. He and his best friend, Sam Henderson, are in a band; or rather, they enjoy coming up with band names and album names and song titles and lyrics and hoping that someday they might find an actual drummer.

One day, Tom goes looking in the basement for a copy of Catcher in the Rye and finds, not just a copy, but one that belonged to his father, with something that looks like a code in it (along with a stack of other books with similar nonsensical notations). He begins investigating this code in hopes that it will tell him something about his father.

What I loved about the novel, though were Portman's humorous descriptions of Tom's life -- and how on-point they were. My AP (and IB) teachers really did have us make collages, someone in my eleventh grade English class actually pronounced "wanton" like "wonton" (though not the teacher, thankfully!), and Tom's step-father and his lectures just reminded me so much of my own*.

Oh, and how could I forget the Catcher cult -- like everyone, I read Catcher in the Rye in high school, and I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. I kept trying to find the symbolism and the deep meaning -- and it just wasn't there for me. (I do want to re-read it someday though -- I think I might enjoy it more if it wasn't an assignment).

This novel probably isn't for everyone. In fact, I'd be just like the members of the Catcher cult if I said it was -- but it was just so much fun. I did listen to the audio version, and I was laughing out loud while driving to work (which is always a good thing) -- and I do have to recommend the audio version, if only because of the recordings at the end of Frank Portman singing songs based on or from the novel such as "Thinking of Suicide" and "I Want to Ramone You." (Though I just discovered that some of those tracks are also available to listen to on Amazon ).

*But when you've been dating someone for 5 years... you can get away with making fun of them. And I know I'd probably like the long fantasy series too (I read a couple Wheel of Time books and really liked them), but I'm terrified of getting sucked in and not having time to read anything else.

*who once spent a five minute drive explaining to me why I needed to have my lights on while driving at dusk (after I had already turned them on), by repeating the same sentence over and over and only slightly rearranging the words. "You need to have your lights on so people can see you. People need to be able to see you, so you need to turn your lights on. It's hard to see at this time of day, so it makes it easier for other people to see you if you have your lights on"... and so on...


Jackie said...

I wonder if I'd have liked it better if I'd had the audio. *ponders*


Isn't it great to disagree? ;)

Mindy said...

I really enjoyed the commentary in this book. The Catcher cult, the stepparents cluelessness, etc. all felt very real to me. Plus the band names were fun. :)

Jackie said...

Oh, the band names were brilliant. I can't argue that! :D

Sara said...

Personally, I thought it was all brillant -- but you all know I loved it;)

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