Book Review: King Dork
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Cover of King Dork

[Purchase Book]

As most people know, there’?s a recent young adult novel that has made it to the top of a lot of folks? reading lists, even those who aren?t actually young adults. It?s already been optioned for a movie for a major studio, and it?s gotten a lot of write ups in magazines that wouldn’?t normally cover any books, let alone YA novels. It features a young misfit and his trials and tribulations finding love and fighting evil.

With his made-up rock bands.

King Dork, the first book by Frank Portman (a/k/a Dr. Frank from the Mr. T Experience, a pop-punk band that if you don?’t know, you really need to familiarize yourself with posthaste; I recommend starting with Love Is Dead) has gotten quite a bit of ink. I even saw a feature in Entertainment Weekly; amusing, since not only do they not usually cover young adult books, but his band, arguably more famous than most debut authors, never got a mention or record review before. But, hey, whatever works.

MTX, what the cool kids call the band, has long been known for its highly clever and intelligent lyrics supplied by Dr. Frank. The example most often trotted out is “?The History Of The Concept Of The Soul”?, a 2 minute punk song adapted from Dr. Frank’?s thesis. Song’?s got footnotes. But even songs that aren’?t college coursework are full of wordplay ? “?I Love You, But You?re Standing On My Foot?” starts with ?”When I saw you standing there/in your lacy underwear/I knew I was in the ladies? dressing room?.”  Or the opening of “?Swallow Everything?”: “?There were things I could have told you/But you?ve heard them all before/Besides, you looked so calm and peaceful/Lying passed out on the floor.”? So, unlike, say, Madonna, it?s not too much of a leap to imagine Dr. Frank writing books (or, at least ones people would actually want to read).

King Dork — named after an MTX song (which, who knows, maybe was named after the scene in the first episode of The Critic) ?– is a great novel, regardless of the intended age of the reader, if there even was such a thing. It starts off a little rocky; the narrator, Tom Henderson, is a little tough to bond with at first. By design, of course, but initially the reader can see why he’?s so deeply unpopular; he’?s a bit stuck up. But, soon, he lets his guard down and lets the reader in, at which point, the novel becomes nearly impossible to put down.

Not all of it is perfect –? Tom’?s tendency to use initialisms for phrases (a la David Foster Wallace) isn’?t pulled off as deftly as DFW, and sometimes it seems that Tom (and from reading his blog, this doesn?t seem limited to the fictional narrator) has a love of taking an opposite side from the Traditional, Enlightened? point of view to tweak noses, or at least, taking his deeply held beliefs and phrasing them in a way optimized for probiscal tweakage. However, these are relatively minor, and far outweighed by the brilliant parts of the book, not limited to the list of temporary band names, lineups, and first albums that run through the entire novel.

Dr. Frank?’s got a great flair for character as well — the characters, though filtered through the eyes of a 14-year-old high-school sophomore are well-rounded and believable. Even the characters Tom doesn?t like and tries his best to avoid have enough heft and substance to warrant loathing and avoidance.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is how it seamlessly glides into being a bit of a mystery novel; I didn?’t want to put down the book not just because I felt a sense of attachment with Tom & Sam, but because I wanted to find out how things worked out.

The book ends with two appendices; first, the imaginary discography of Tom & Sam’?s various bands, and a glossary, written by Tom, of various two-dollar-words, phrases and bands, and with the latter, their ranking on the best-ever list, which is actually pretty dang good. (Though maybe I?’m just pleased that I?’ve got someone else who’?s derisive of Led Zeppelin and The Doors, and very ambivalent over the Velvet Underground.)

King Dork is definitely worth picking up; it?s great if you?’re an MTX fan, but also if you’?re just a fan of good books. Which, considering that it was written by a rock star, can be surprising. Though, considering who that rock star is ? and, well, that he?s probably mostly a rock quasi-star, at least in terms of popularity and fame — it shouldn’?t be that surprising at all.

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