Friday, September 26, 2008

The 'Catcher' Cult

King Dork / by Frank Portman

"I suppose I fit the traditional mold of the brainy, freaky, oddball kid who reads too much, so bright that his genius is sometimes mistaken for just being retarded." (p.5)

Tom Henderson might be called "Chi-Mo" by others (hint: not a coffee), but he'll always prefer his own self-tailored moniker, King Dork ("...a silent protest and acknowledgement of reality at the same time"). No, he doesn't command a "nerd army, or preside over a realm of the socially ill-equipped"; he's just been rendered inferior by all his "psycho-normal" peers that stalk the halls of "standard, generic High School Hell". When his personal dignity's not under assault, he and co-dork Sam Hellerman like to hang out at his ultra-dysfunctional house where, avoiding whiny sister species and flaky parental units, they continue work on their band's next album. Make that its first album...rather, its first song...or, failing that, a new band altogether.

Being 'below the bottom' of the high school pecking order's bad enough, but not knowing why your cop father was killed in the line of duty is its own self-sustaining mystery. Indeed, it seems a hopeless quandary until strange clues unearth in the most insanely ironic places; a wackjob teacher's crusty sarcasm, an old copy of Catcher in the Rye, mysterious Bible coding, etc., all start to shed light on the "accident" in question. Meanwhile, something even more mystifying emerges. Tom/"Chi-Mo" begins having "girl" encounters after a clandestine incident at a halloween party--involving a rather precociously attired female--sets him on the trail of an altogether different mystery.

Longtime Rock singer/songwriter Frank Portman has quite a knack for fiction. Not only is this book an authentic characterization of protagonist Tom/"Chi-Mo"/"King Dork"..., it's a downright laugh riot as a totally dead-on depiction of the cynical teenage mentality. Where soooo many books/movies/TV/music go wrong-wrong-wrong in duplicating the teenage microcosm is where King Dork gets it right: a recognition that the high school domain is all too often just the "familiar monotony" of "tedious" and "horrifying" incidents. Even with the somewhat tacked-on subplot, this book is a can't-put-downer as Tom eventually establishes some authority to accomodate his angst-ridden, skeptic-laden identity.

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