Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #39: King Dork by Frank Portman
I read about Frank Portman’s King Dork on Pajiba when news came out about the movie rights. It seems like a film version is imminent, so I thought I’d better read the novel soon. I checked it out the library one afternoon, and later that evening I was annoying my husband by reading passages out loud.
The novel tells the story of sophomore Tom Henderson who’s struggling, as most kids do, to make it through high school with minimal psychological damage. In the beginning of the novel, Tom’s descriptions of high school and his analyses of the various personalities contained within were so dead-on that those were the sections I read to my husband who is also a teacher. Portman did a fantastic job of capturing the dark side of public education and the reasons why so many kids are disaffected by the whole thing. By the end of the novel, the story had veered pretty far away from reality, but the beginning set the scene so perfectly that the twists felt believable even though they were so extreme.
Tom’s analysis of high-school society centers on what he calls the Cult of Catcher in the Rye. In his opinion, all of his teachers are just looking for the next Holden Caulfield. As a result, Tom holds a grudge against Holden’s character but ironically is quite similar to Holden himself. He’s just as disaffected and fed up with society as Caulfield is. With his friend Sam Hellerman, Tom spends his days making up new band names, designing album covers and song titles, and then moving on to a new band name before actually creating any music. One day, Tom discovers some old books that belonged to his father, a police officer who died six years earlier. Tom feels that there is some mystery surrounding his father’s death and thinks that by reading the books, he may uncover some clue. His obsession with his father’s books frustrates him but eventually leads him down some interesting paths, and Tom eventually stumbles across some of the answers to his questions quite inadvertently.
The novel’s twists were a bit of stretch in spots, but the novel was funny and engaging. I will be interested to see how it works as a film if it gets made.