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King Dork    by Frank Portman order for
King Dork
by Frank Portman
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)

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*   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In stand-up comedy style, Tom Henderson delivers his slanted story in a long, breathless, drawn-out monologue. He talks about school stuff, classmates, sister Amanda, mother Carol, stepdad 'Little Big Tom', friend Sam Hellerman, and his aspirations for a music band. The latter often (like every other week) changes names from 'Baby Batter' to 'The Stoned Marmadukes', and 'The Plasma Nukes'.

The Hillmont High sophomore year begins with the usual daily torments - beating up prey, pranks, tripping vics in hallways, gluing lockers shut, throwing chewed gum balls at the back of heads, catching certain students - like Tom (a.k.a. King Dork) and Sam who are self-conscious misfits - in the locker rooms. They are not athletic, have no social life, but share Rock and Roll dreams. Noteworthy is colorful English teacher Mr. Schtuppe, who begins on the first day his annual soliloquy about behavior and dress regulations, and continues on the second day, right where he left off after bell sounded on the first day (got that?) Mr. Schtuppe's first handout is a book entitled '30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary'. He tells the class, 'In 30 days, you will learn how to make words your slaves.'

Portman's book has sub-headed passages, each within a month's time frame, such as 'The Entire Contents of My Room' and 'Protest Something'. Segments about the mysterious death of Tom's dad (he was a Santa Clara Police detective) are addressed under headings like 'The Bad Detective', and 'The Star-Spangled Banner Cipher'. It all starts with The Catcher in the Rye. Forgetting his copy at school, Tom goes into the attic to look through a box of his father's books. He finds a funeral card, a clothes cleaner's receipt, and codes, dates, and his father's initials written in books - all possible clues to finding out more about dad. Then there is the mysterious Fiona, a.k.a. Deanna, whose father once worked with Tom's dad. But, the author writes, as in other places, 'I'll get to that later'.

King Dork is an out-of-the-ordinary romp through nonsense (that at times turns to sense). Tom wanders through his story, intermingling music, high school trials, criticism, philosophical perceptions, and searches for answers. As Tom says in the intro, 'It's actually kind of a complicated story, involving at least half a dozen mysteries, plus dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism, books, blood, Bubblegum, guitars, monks, faith, love, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, a war, a secret code, a head injury, the Crusades, some crimes, mispronunciation skills, a mystery woman, a devil-head, a blow job, and rock and roll.'

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