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Books: King Dork
Sunday, 2007 May 27 - 11:28 am
A book for our generation.

If you ever felt like an outcast in high school, someone who was low on the social totem pole, Frank Portman's King Dork is a book you must read.

It's the story of Tom Henderson, a guy who's out of the mainstream in his high school. He's tormented by uninspiring teachers, bullies, and relentless scorn from the popular and beautiful crowd. His problem? He's smart and creative, but lacks either the skills or the desire to hang out with "normal" people.

If you see some parallels between this and Catcher in the Rye, score yourself five points extra credit. This book clearly draws some inspiration from it, while at the same time ridiculing it mercilessly for its dated language and its cult-like following among adults. It often appears that King Dork is an attempt to capture the essence of cynicism and existentialism from the viewpoint of a Gen-X or Gen-Y kid, rather than that of a baby boomer.

And on that front, the book is a rousing success. It is neither condescendingly hip nor generationally stale; it seems to capture exactly how an outcast teenage kid would see the world around him. At times I was astounded by Portman's ability to convey the corny goofiness of adults (like his stepfather Tom, an aging hippie who has a penchant for saying "rock and roll" and flashing peace signs), and the degree to which kids feel misunderstood by them.

I also got a sense of how a teenage boy has very little insight into the character of a teenage girl. I wasn't always convinced that this was intentional, though... at times, female characters in male-authored novels aren't very deeply written, and it could be that this was just an example of that. But since the book is a first-person narrative from a teenage boy, this is forgivable.

The book is a page-turning thriller too, with clever foreshadowing and an engrossing mystery. The suspense builds right up to the very end.

I found the ending to be satisfying, if perhaps a little less than crisp. By that I mean I was looking for some sort of punctuation at the end, a revelation or insight that would sum up the whole story. But I suppose real-life stories don't end that way, and if we actually found real meaning somewhere, that might be contrary to the existentialist nature of the whole story.

Overall: highly recommended reading, especially for all my geek friends and readers out there.

Rating: 4.5 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: booksreviews

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