by Frank Portman
reviewed by Dominique Godinez
King Dork, written by Frank Portman, indulges young adult readers into the fictional teenage world of Tom Henderson, aka Chi-Mo. This coming of age story reflects his journey from confusion about his father’s death, societal issues, the purpose of life, and mysterious annotations on his father’s old books to even more confused about all of these. This hilarious yet meaningful novel is filled with relatable high school experiences and archetypes, Catcher in the Rye references, mystery, geometry, interesting family dynamics, that awkward best friend, girls, and more girls.
King Dork documents the thoughts and experiences of Tom, from August to December in his sophomore year of high school, with Portman writing as Tom in stream of consciousness. Better known as Chi-Mo, a cruel and random nickname from middle school, Tom finds himself floating along each depressing day of high school with only Sam Hellerman, another “dork”, at his side. Chi-Mo and Sam find ways to amuse themselves while at school by trying to make out with the most attractive and popular girls, coming up with band and album names, hating on Catcher in the Rye, and making fun of the super annoying principal. This is all fun and games until Chi-Mo discovers his deceased father’s books, one of which is Catcher in the Rye. Tom and Sam try to decode his father’s notes to gain insight on what Tom’s father was really like and resolve Tom’s feelings regarding his father’s death. The pair go on a rousing journey to solve the mystery concerning the demise of Tom’s father. This exciting chapter in their lives occurs while Tom tries to break his image of being a “king dork” (Portman 5) by pursuing random, attractive, and willing girls.
Frank Portman conveys the mind of a fifteen year old boy extremely well. I appreciate how Portman uses literary techniques to really make the reader feel like a grungy, awkward teen; however, the book consists of Tom’s random thoughts, and lacks a solid plot. I love the outbursts as they make the book hilarious, enjoyable, and relatable, but overall they impact the book negatively. Portman strategically places important revelations and turning points throughout the story to keep a plot going, yet lacks consistency throughout the book. I was thoroughly entertained, although not every page had a purpose. This book can be most favored by people who can appreciate raunchy, self- deprecating, and or witty humor. Portman places violence, foul language, suicide, sex, drugs, and of course rock and roll throughout the book, so beware of these inappropriate topics. These are the major themes in this amusing work. Tom Henderson’s character exemplifies most of these rather grim themes when he says, “a...sad-sack dork like me” (Portman 53). I went from loving this risque character along with minor characters because of their humor and disposition to being upset towards them because they often make exasperating decisions that I am not fond of.
Although the book is an overall five stars for me purely based on how much I enjoyed the novel, I have to say there was little character development in any character. Tom reflects on his sophomore year in the epilogue and thinks, “I’m more confused than I ever was before (Portman 303).” Portman wrote King Dork as a relatively easy read filled with plots jumbled within. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a engrossing, uncomplicated, fun time.