King Dork

King Dork by Frank Portman

Powell’s Books

publication date: 2006
pages: 344
ISBN-13: 978-0385734509

I have to admit: my opinion of this book changed after I realized it was written by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T. Experience. Issues I’d had with the book, such as esoteric music and book references and a juvenile perception of young women, dwindled with the realization: oh, the author thinks he is a rockstar. I’m not proud of that fact, but I did forgive the book for some of its transgressions.

Not that the book needed much forgiveness. I found it funny and compelling before I knew about its author.  King Dork follows Tom Henderson through his sophomore year of high school at Hillmont High in California. At heart, the book is a coming-of-age story, although Portman takes great pains to convince his reader otherwise. Tom spends the book expanding his horizons beyond his imaginary bands to, among other things, his dead father’s past, girls’ mouths, live shows, and sexy parties.

There were several comedic gems sprinkled throughout the book and I laughed out loud many times. Most of the book’s wit stemmed from wry observations about being an American teen. For example, Tom and his bandmate, Sam Hellerman, are discussing the meaning of Christian rock music and Sam thinks he might understand it: it’s like “You have a crush on Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t know you exist.” At another point, Tom is complaining about a book he is reading, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, and J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Tom opines that if Holden Caulfield read Doors of Perception “he’d say something like ‘Gee, Wally, that’s swell and junk, but I feel all crumby on account of how it’s so phony and all.’” Nothing like a pretentious literature joke to get this reader chuckling.

In fact, the book spends an inordinate amount of time lambasting The Catcher in the Rye. Portman either really despises that book or is straining to seem hip and irreverent to his young audience. I’m putting my money on the latter. There are other examples in the book of Portman trying to connect, or something, with guys between the ages of 12 and 16. The first page alone mentions naked people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, blood, guitars, girls, a blow job, and rock and roll. Also, as mentioned earlier, the book does not treat young women in a realistic or positive way. These attempts at irreverence are bewildering at best and painful at worst.

Another weakness of King Dork is its constant foreshadowing. This is something I see a lot in YA fiction (The Book Thief, for example). Guess what, YA authors: foreshadowing is not effective. Instead, any plot climax is prostrate because of your constant hints that “Yes, something is going to happen. And yes, it will blow your mind.” Rarely will a foreshadowed plot development live up to an author’s earlier descriptions of it.

If I knew any boys in high school, I don’t know if I would recommend King Dork to them. The book contained too many unrealistic blow jobs. However, I would recommend this book to those of us who survived high school and periodically enjoy some funny YA fiction that doesn’t try to jam a message about uniqueness or being ourselves down our throat.

4/6: worth reading

Here are some other reviews of the book:

Teenreads
Goodreads
What was I reading?

3 comments on “King Dork

  1. Rachel A. says:

    Dear Book Babbler:

    Love this review. I laughed when you say King Dork is a piece of YA fiction that doesn’t “jam a message about uniqueness or being ourselves down our throat”. That usually comes up with YA for sure. And I appreciate the realization that this is a hipster author being ironic about Catcher In the Rye. In short, you paint a useful picture of the book. I don’t think King Dork is for me, based on what you’ve relayed. Thanks for saving me a few hours.

  2. Beaufield says:

    Early in the review I thought hmm this sounds like he’s trying to write a new Catcher In The Rye…and then when he mocks Holden Caulfield I thought Hmmm that’s ironic. He IS trying to write a new Catcher In The Rye.

    Unrealistic blow job stories are just rude to boys and girls alike.

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