The debut novel from Frank Portman, a.k.a Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience, King Dork, is a splendid example of teen/young adult fiction. Protagonist Tom Henderson is the typical high school outcast/loser. He has one friend, which might not have happened if they hadn't met by lining up alphabetically earlier in school, his school bullies to battle, his awkward but mostly supportive family, a school administrator to outwit and zero chances of ever making out with a girl.
The novel moves along with no major events for about the first hundred pages, as Portman takes his time setting up his characters, their nuances and wants. Tom and his best friend, Sam, have a band where they're constantly changing the name, along with coming up with cover art ideas and album and track titles. None of the band names are very good, but what band name is, as they're drawn from their rather mundane lives.
For those unaware, King Dork relies heavily on Catcher in the Rye, the influential novel by J.D. Salinger, especially in the style. I'd even suggest it to be the Catcher of the 21st century, for its updated themes and relatability to today's teenagers. King Dork isn't without its Catcher-style faults, though. Henderson's naming of the Catcher Cult is quite similar to Holden Caulfield's calling others "phonies" all too often. The members of the Catcher Cult are everyday citizens pushing the book on Henderson, reminding him how it changed their life as a teen. Henderson is reluctant to accept their suggestion, as Catcher has been assigned to him so many times he doesn't bother with a school copy, as he has his own. He is either too proud to admit or too ignorant to recognize that Catcher has already directly affected his life.
Hidden inside is an unsuspecting mystery/detective novel masked by the day-to-day problems of a teenager. The genre is blurred, as Henderson investigates the death of his natural father years prior to the start of the novel. Henderson picks up the trail as he digs through his father's books he read as a teenager, searching for handwritten clues in the margins as well as meanings in the text starting with his father's copy of Catcher. He reads through more and more, never quite finishing any of them for various reasons.
It is this odd collection of books and a simple invite by Sam to a party that sets the plot moving forward. Unexpectedly, Henderson meets and makes out with a strange girl from a different school and his wholehearted search to reconnect with her that sets off his sexual revolution.
For the rest of the novel, Henderson juggles his search for his new sexual identity, his forever-changing band name's success and his school studies.
In the end, Henderson blows the lid off a huge scandal involving his high school principal as he seeks information on his dad at the height of his band's popularity. By doing so, Henderson is the victim of a brutal beatdown, putting him in the hospital for the final pages (excluding epilogue), Nearing the climax they had found the perfect band name (the Chi-Mos) as Henderson accidentally blurted it out as he introduced his band to the school at its Battle of the Bands competition. To my surprise and agitation, Portman kept up the motif of changing the band's name as the novel came to an end.
Even as the epilogue came to a close, I had trouble believing the novel's finish, as one of the major plot points was left unresolved. Although it might be a more realistic ending, as a reader it left me disappointed and wanting some closure revolving around the death of Henderson's father.
To those of you have yet picked this up, I recommend you do so immediately (if not for the punx points), then for the entertaining read.