King Dork by Frank Portman

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King Dork by Frank Portman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Hugely funny, inventive, sexy and sharply observed, this is a wonderful coming-of-age story about a bright boy in the lower echelons of the high school pecking order. The dramatic conflict lacks a little tension, but the book is so funny, they'll be happy to forgive it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141322803

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Tom Henderson languishes in the lower echelons of the pecking order at Hillmont High. He's a dork, as is his only friend, Sam Hellerman. Tom and Sam spend their lives trying to avoid the daily ritual humiliations meted out by their peers. It's not a great life. Tom's father, a cop, died in a mysterious car accident when Tom was just eight, and when Tom finds a dog-eared, annotated copy of The Catcher in the Rye that belonged to his father, it sets off a series of coincidences and conspiracies involving dead people, naked people, fake people, and above all, blow-jobs.

I loved King Dork - it's another one of those misfit teenager telling all in stream of consciousness, stand up comedian style books, and it's a jolly good one. Tom Henderson is clearly considerably brighter than most of his peers - normals - but bright doesn't mean popular. He chronicles the daily torture of life at Hillmont High with coruscating wit but also a wonderful level of self-aware and self-deprecating humour. Tom wants to lose his blow-job virginity as much as anyone, but as a dork nicknamed Chi Mo for child molester, he's not in with much of a chance. So he and his friend Sam Hellerman (never just Sam) seek solace in music and a series of imaginary bands. They put as much time and effort into album cover design as they do actually practising their instruments. It's touching, but also hilarious. My favourite incarnation:

The Mordor Apes Guitar - Mithril-hound Bass and Necrology - Li'l Sauron Percussion and Stupefaction - Dim Todd First Album - Elven Tail


As an hilarious teenage diary a la Adrian Mole, it would be difficult to top King Dork. I laughed, laughed and laughed again. I couldn't put it down. I re-read jokes. My older son is currently reading it and it's taking him ages, because he has to rush around repeating the best one liners to anyone who'll listen. It really is that funny, that well-observed. However, the dramatic conflict on which it's based - the converging mysteries surrounding the death of Tom's father and the true identity of a girl called Fiona - lack tension. Everything's sacrificed to the humour. I wasn't too fussed about the resolution - or how much of it there should be. I was too busy laughing. Anthony McGowan's Henry Tumour takes literary heritage - this time Shakespeare, not Salinger - and creates an equally funny book with much, much more tension. My Side of the Story does a better job of resolving family crisis in a cultish book for teenagers also based on black comedy.

Ultimately, though, lack of tension notwithstanding, King Dork is a wonderful achievement. It's fresh and funny, it pays proper attention to the obsessions of teenage boys, even if they do centre on blow-jobs, it's inventive and well-written. It's definitely recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Puffin for sending the book.

If they liked King Dork, they'll also love Anthony McGowan's Henry Tumour and also My Side of the Story.

Booklists.jpg King Dork by Frank Portman is in the Top Ten Funniest Books.

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