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King Dork

King Dork - Frank Portman When I was in junior high school, I was a bit of a dork. And to be honest, I continued being a dork through high school, college, and ... well, let's just say that not a whole lot has changed over the past 20 years or so. What makes me mention junior high school is because I used to fantasize about being in a rock band. I would talk to friends about it, come up with cool names (Stainless Steel and Kevin McKinley and the Kinetics are the two I still remember), and I would even come up with logos, album covers, credits, and the like. I even came up with a pretty good name for an independent label while I was in college (nekkid rekkids). None of it ever came to fruition, but it was a lot of fun doing that sort of stuff. That it was a lot of fun sort of indicates how much of a dork I was.

Why do I mention all that? Well, King Dork has a main character in high school who does this very same thing. He's probably a little further into the "cool" part of the spectrum than I ever was (he's more rebellious, and actually noodles around enough on the guitar to be able to play one), but he and his friend don't fit in, because ... well, in high school, there doesn't need to be any specific reason why one doesn't fit in, and this book proves it, over and over and over again. The author manages to temper this causticity with a heaping helping of humor, but it's still caustic, and a lot of times it will wind up being in the "laugh so you don't cry" sort of vein. The main character and narrator drive the story with this sort of narrative, but underlying it all is a plot of the same character trying to discover who his father was. It all inter-relates well, and the author pulls it all together deftly.

The other thing about the book I liked was Tom's scathing criticism of The Catcher in the Rye, or, more specifically, his criticism of the teachers who view the book as the pinnacle of teenage rebellion. He makes the teachers out to be part of a cult who look at this one book as being the common bond between them and their students, even though the students don't seem to have any interest in the story. That the teachers view the book as a form of endorsed rebellion isn't missed by Tom, since he realizes that when a supposed form of rebellion is studied in a literature course, it's no longer a form of rebellion. But when the book itself becomes a modernized version of this much-hated, much-maligned (at least in this novel) book, it takes on a different level of symbolism that really works.

What's interesting about the book is that it's written by someone who went on to some modicum of fame as an adult: He's Dr. Frank from the Mr. T Experience. That was more or less what encouraged me to read the book, though the positive reviews I read of the book certainly didn't hurt. The man seems to be a good writer. If nothing else, he was able to capture perfectly the hell that is high school, especially for those people who never fit in with the in crowd. I saw a lot of myself in the main character (as evidenced above), and while I was never the misfit that Tom is, I recognized a lot of the angst and tension that he experiences while in high school. The author does a great job of capturing it all, down to the single least point of embarrassment.

The book falls into the "YA With Warnings" category, since it's very clearly a YA book (the main character and his trials and tribulations are all very much what a high-schooler would experience), but the content might put some parents off. If this book were a movie (and I understand that's in progress), it would be rated R for content and language. Of course, this is true for Catcher in the Rye, so I wonder if that was all together intentional, anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if it were.