Portman, F. (2006). King Dork. New York: Delacorte Press.
A self-described dork, Tom begins tenth grade girlfriend-less, with only one friend and still thinking about the car accident that killed his father several years previously. After being assigned to read Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye again and leaving his own copy at school, Tom finds his father's old copy of that book and some others from the 1960s. Interested in the marginalia (notes written in the margins), Tom begins to suspect a larger mystery is at work.
When I started this book, I was under its spell, laughing out loud and totally amused by all of Tom's insights and run-on sentences. As I kept reading, the love subsided (but still managed not to completely die). Many of the sections felt like rambling essays that didn’t add to the plot or tension. There is no perfect conclusion to some of the mysteries, which I was fine with, since it felt realistic and managed to comment on the meanings we place upon the past.
There are multiple sexual situations that probably takes this book out of the running for an actual class to read. But it could still be a great recommendation for any teen that likes John Green, Susan Juby or Markus Zusak's books.
Activities to do with the book:
At the very least, King Dork is a wonderful personal recommendation to make to young adults, especially if that teacher does a unit on Catcher in the Rye or some of the other 1960s books referenced. A complete list of the books and other fun stuff can be found through Portman's website.
If a teacher managed to find a context in which they could share this book in a school setting, the could have students read some of the novels from the 1960s and research that time period. In groups, students could also research some of the bands also mentioned in the text and consider the history and social pressures that influenced the groups. A more creative option would be to have students take on the role of graphic designers and create album art for bands they would create.
“It’s actually kind of a complicated story, involving at least half a dozen mysteries, plus dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism, books, blood, Bubblegum, guitars, monks, faith, love, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, a war, a secret code, a head injury, the Crusades, some crimes, mispronunciation skills, a mystery woman, a devil-head, a blow job, and rock and roll. It pretty much destroyed the world as I had known it up to that point. And I’m not even exaggerating all that much. I swear to God” (p. i).
“The call me King Dork.
Well, let me put it another way: no one ever actually calls me King Dork. It’s how I refer to myself in my head, a silent protest and an acknowledgement of reality at the same time. I don’t command a nerd army, or preside over a realm of the socially ill-equipped” (p. 5).
“I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties. It is every teacher’s favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a read dreamboat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.
It’s kind of like a cult.
They live for making your read it” (p. 12).