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King Dork by Frank Portman

Title King Dork
Author Frank Portman
Publisher Random House Children's Books
Year 2006
ISBN-10 0385734506

Teaser/Reader Annotation This is not your typical high school tale where the halls are pristine and the students straight from the Disney channel. This is the awkward, painful side of of youth that Tom Henderson knows.

Plot Summary King Dork is the story of high school misfit Tom Henderson's efforts to survive his sophomore year. He struggles through abuse from the "psychotic normal" kids and useless school administrators. His teachers are witless acolytes of the cult of "Catcher in the Rye" and insist that their students also discover its magic. While he finds some joy in classic rock, he takes issue with the priorities of the sixties' counterculture. His attempts to start his own band are seemingly foiled when he cannot quite seem to find a name good enough to do them justice; though, he does discover that being in a band is helpful in relating to the opposite sex. After making out with a mysterious girl at a party, he launches an investigation to discover her true identity. All the while, he works to unravel the mystery of his father's death six years prior by following a series of cryptic clues found in the books in his basement.

Critical Evaluation King Dork follows a traditional narrative style that is occasionally broken by the interposition of the first-person narrative used to varying levels of effectiveness. There are a number of seemingly loose plots which tie together in the end, though some a bit later than others. The narrative does fray a bit towards the end of the book when a number of things begin happening towards the mystery storyline which do not impact character development. While this is distracting, it does not keep the book from feeling complete, though. The language used through the novel can get a bit rough – such as the use of “fag” and “retard” - but it is used in a way that pretty accurately reflects how teenage boys use those terms. I also have to wonder whether or not teenagers will be able to relate to the bands mentioned in the book with so many years and historical events between them. This novel is both an accurate and hilarious look at the awkward world of adolescence which will appeal to readers who enjoy shows such as the canceled Freaks and Geeks.

About the Author Frank Portman (September 21, 1964) is an American singer, musician, guitarist, and author. He went to high school in Millbrae, California near San Francisco. After graduation he continued his studies at the University of California, Berkeley; though, he was more focused on his music career.

Like his character in King Dork, Portman began making music in high school, playing in a band named Bent Nails. He has continued with the music career throughout his life, playing for multiple bands. In his writing focus, Portman is currently producing a blog called “Dr. Frank's What's It” and published a second novel, Andromeda Klein, in 2009.

Primary Genre Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Ties English

Booktalking Ideas

Discuss the use of bands mentioned in the novel. Would it have been more effective to use bands modern teenagers would be able to relate to or does this style work? Would he have risked dating the book if he used a different set of bands?

Reading Level/Interest Age Grade 9+

Challenge Issues Language

1) Become familiar with book and its content.
2) Refer to library's collection policies.
3) Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles.
4) Get reviews from teenagers who are familiar with the book.
5) Refer to the ALA Library Bill of Rights.

Why is it included? King Dork cuts right to the heart of the experiences of the awkward teenager.