King Dork
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2007
The boy narrating this story has a perfect teenage voice-- funny, a little too smart and self-conscious about it, alternately defensive and searching. I was in love with it after the first page: I handed the book to someone else with instructions to read the first page. She loved it too. I had a hard time getting the book back.

The voice keeps its magic all the way through. I liked the device of using a class assignment of one of those "30 days to a better vocabulary" books to justify the narrator's use of words most teenagers wouldn't use.

The events in the book were nicely balanced between realism and farce. Some plot points were a little larger than life, but nothing too over the top.

Four stars instead of five? Near the end, the book veered off track on the murder-mystery subplot and lost steam. It recovered a little before the very end, but not fully. This was the last ten pages or so: suddenly I just wasn't interested in picking the book up and finishing it.

I feel this book is aimed at people my age (late 30s) more than at teenagers. There's something fishy when I know more than half the bands mentioned in the book. Boomer-resentment and Catcher In The Rye backlash are also Gen X phenomenon, I suspect. It didn't bother me, but I can understand why other reviewers called the book dated.

Beautiful writing, funny, and well worth the read.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2006
This is a weird & delightful & incredibly funny novel. If you hated high school -- or just realized it was a rotten trial designed to crush your expectations for adulthood -- you may well love this book. If you thought high school was awesome, it's doubtful you're shopping for books on Amazon.

Portman's voice is remarkable and sly. The characters & dialogue are so good throughout the book that the end was kind of disappointing, if only because it ended too much like a normal book with some sort of crisis/climax like novels seem to always have these days. Or maybe I was just reluctant to finish the book at all. And I didn't care for a few clumsy claims that the narrative takes place in our current era and not the early 1980s; it would be a good idea for the publishers to remove those two or three "modern day" references from the paperback edition, which should be in many backpacks when schools starts in Fall. Trivial complaints ...

"King Dork" is funnier, more honest and better written than just about anything I've read in years. Frank Portman finds that Salinger guy, grinds his head in the gravel & makes the disillusioned clever kid once again safe for literature. Plus, the band names are fantastic, and there's a whole history of rock revealed in the pages.
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32 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2010
After reading so many great reviews, I was also sucked into reading this novel. It has a lot of promise but it just didn't deliver. As was stated by so many reviewers, the references are very dated, and most teens will be bewildered and possibly bored. The repetition is aggravating as well, and the humor is occasionally off the mark. My biggest concern is about the attitude towards teenage girls, who are looked at as existing mainly to provide sexual favors to the protagonist with no reciprocation and practically no prompting. Not only is this demeaning to females, but for any teenage boys reading this, it adds to the already pervasive attitude that girls are only there for the boys' pleasure. As a children's and young adult librarian, I will steer any kids clear of this book, and instead recommend titles which treat both girls and boys with more respect. Incidentally, I have no problem with sex in YA literature and it definitely has a place, but it all comes down to how it is handled. This was pretty offensive.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2011
(Full disclosure: I'm slightly acquainted with the author, and went to high school in the same area, at roughly the same time. My experience was pretty different, although I did recognize some of King Dork's observations, exaggerated though they were.)

In general, I liked this book, mainly because the voice of the narrator was so amusing. It's hard to say how the teen audience it's aimed at will take it--I see a few positive reviews from teenagers online, but the book also seems a bit dense and wordy for a lot of younger high schoolers. I also agree with some of the other commenters that the book is not believably set in the 21st century--the references were way off, and I doubt any high-school kid from the late 90's on doesn't have a pretty large relationship with computers. Anyone reading "King Dork" would think that computers hadn't been invented yet. King Dork himself even listens to records on vinyl, which you have to go out of your way to do. So one star off for that. I also thought that the editor should have caught a few things where the book disagreed with itself, such as the narrator's comment that his encounter with a girl at a party was the most important thing that ever happened to him. More important than his dad's death?

Amazon's customer reviewers have a lot of complaints about the plot and the lack of resolution to the story. I had mixed feelings about that myself; I did think the narrator's own ideas about what "the mystery" means were interesting, and will cause kids to think about their own reactions to stories. But on the other hand, most readers will be at least a little disappointed that the story fizzles out in that respect, and I wasn't sure I believed that King Dork himself would really decide just to quit trying to find the truth.

I also found it incredibly strange that KD would develop relationships with girls that consist pretty much solely of receiving BJ's. I wouldn't exactly say those sections were misogynist, since KD was nothing but appreciative, and would have liked to have a regular girlfriend who wasn't seeing him only on the nights her "real" boyfriend worked. More like fantasist and irritating. (Odd that none of the characters seemed to think there was anything wrong with the cheating aspect of these connections.) Worse, for me, were the parts were KD outlines his view of girls' social hierarchy; that wasn't my perception at all, when I was that age, and I thought it came off as pretty obnoxious. Another star lopped.

Despite these complaints, I did get involved in the book, I did get to like KD and his pal Sam, and I laughed out loud quite often at both of their comments, and especially the scene with the "Battle of the Bands." The constant asides about music could be very boring to some, but I think people who are particularly interested in rock will find they add a lot to the story. I will be interested to read Portman's next book, which I understand has a female protagonist--let's hope she does more than play "semi-hot girl" to the boys.
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29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
If this author was Harvard bound, younger and more photogenic, perhaps he'd have a shot at the half million advance awarded to Kaavya "The Internalizer" Viswanathan whose plagiarism scandal recently rocked the literary world. He'd certainly deserve it, as there is no evidence that he himself didn't compose "King Dork" which is one of the best novels about the high school experience that I've read in a long time.

This book is a far more accurate, painful and hilarious look at the world of adolescence. If you identify with books in which which Nerd Girl gets a brand name makeover, sleeps with Campus Stud, winds up with Brooding Artist, makes a speech about values and gets into the Ivy League, then you probably won't enjoy "King Dork." If on the other hand, you are still mourning the cancellation of "Freaks and Geeks," then you probably will.

"King Dork" had me laughing and nodding my head in recognition from the first page to the last, whereas with the makeover type books I just snicker and wonder what universe the authors are living in to create a high school world that's 100 percent fantasy and fluff. What a shame that a book like "King Dork" that actually tells it like it isn't given half the (pre scandal) press of a book like "How Opal Mehta." For such a threadbare concept - young alienated man comes of age with the help of books, music and the opposite sex, it's still fresh and original.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2006
I was a dork in junior high, but by time I got to high school MTV had convinced my peers that "alternative kids" were cool - especially if they rode around on stupid little toys with wheels called skateboards. I think I may have repressed most of my "dark years" - I was considered cool until 6th grade and after 10th grade and tend to recall those eras vividly. I read an advance galley of King Dork and it helped me unlock a lot of memories I can now look back on and laugh (with the aid of pharmecutical helping hands).

I better get to the point real quick - THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ. I am not exagerrating, and I am not some numbskull that has only read two other books in my life. I am an avid reader, and I say to you that this book kept me entertained and chuckling all the way through.

It is classified as "young adult" but don't go thinkin' that you are too sophsisticated for it. There is some very advanced humor lurking within these pages, but it isn't at all pretentious or on some "isn't life just absurd!" crap. It is just straight up comic genius.

I laughed out loud and in public just from reading the dedication. And you know what, it only got better from there.

I have never even wrote an Amazon review before, but this book was so effing good that I felt I had to. The thought of someone considering this book and then deciding against it keeps my up at night. So please, if you have read this far, do yourself a favor and buy the book. It's all types of awesome.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2006
I have been a fan of The Mr T Experience and Dr Frank since the early 90's when I was experiencing a lot of the same adolescent high school torture, failed attempts at starting a band, and girl troubles described in this book. My expectations were very high, expecting nothing less than the literary equivelant to the clever, funny and heartfelt songs and lyrics I have adored for so many years already. All I can say is that this book without a doubt fulfills every hope I had for it. Whether you've heard of MTX or not, you will love this book. If you ever went to high school or started a band or obsessed over a girl or felt like your parents were a little weird, you will love this book. If you're 15 or 26 (like me), you will still love this book. If you ever listened to any music from the 70's you will love this book. I am really proud to see Dr. Frank succeed with writing a novel as well as crafting some of the best pop-punk songs ever written.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2006
When I finished reading King Dork, I felt sorry for Frank Portman. I felt sorry for him because it was an almost perfect book, and I wondered what happens to people who write books that great. Is it crushing if people don't like their work? Is the pressure to continue to write at that level a burden? Well, judging from people's reactions and the early reviews, Portman may not have to worry about the first concern. And it would be a real surprise if somebody with this much talent ever slipped.

I don't want to summarize the plot for anyone except to say that I repeatedly laughed out loud. And it was one of those books where you find yourself slowing down as you read, because you can't bear the idea that it is actually finite; that it will actually come to an end. I love Tom Henderson. I love Sam and Amanda, and Mom and LBT. I love the glossary and the band names, especially Underpants Machine. I strongly recommend this book if Steve Winwood makes you gag and Ricky Gervais is your hero. This book is for you if you wear berets, or capes, or hoodies, or clothes from old navy. This book is for you if you ever feel superior to everyone around you and remain terrified of them at all times. It's tender, it's rad, it's the best book I've read since 'Yes I Can.'
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23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
This book, like many specimens of "teen fiction," seems to be written in the hopes of boosting the confidence of its young readers. Amazingly, Mr Portman seems to think that the best way to give boys the confidence to interact with the opposite sex is to teach them to think of their female classmates as concubines instead of peers. Not a single female character is given either depth nor admirable traits. The protagonist's mother is an addled alcoholic; his sister is a stepfather-hating shrew; his psychiatrist is an ineffectual egotist; his sexual partners are utterly hollow, lacking any resemblance of self-respect. The disrespectful portrayal of women is layered on so thickly that it seems for much of the book that some irony must be intended, that a lesson will be learned in the end, but any hopes for that are stripped by the protagonists apparently earnest advice to the reader:

"If you're in a band, even an extremely sucky band, girls, even semihot ones..., will totally mess around with you and give you b***j**s, provided you can assure them that no one will ever find out about it. Start a band. Or go around saying that you're in a band, which is, let's face it, pretty much the same thing. The quality of your life can only improve."

A number of anachronisms in the book indicate that the author, despite attempting to set the book in 2000 (give or take a year), has actually set the book in 1990 (give or take a year): No one listens to Nine Inch Nails or Rage Against the Machine, fifteen-year-olds make allusions to Ronald Reagan, and no one uses computers while researching at the library. Normally I find such inconsistencies to be a source of frustration, but here I cherish them. I sincerely hope that these anachronisms will work their way into the subconscious minds of young readers. I hope it will make the book seem as dated. I hope that it will also make Mr Portman's deplorable attitude toward women seem dated--a relic of the past, something wholly unacceptable in our decade.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I used to read a lot. I had given up on it the past few years because...I guess I was overwhelmed with choices & underwhelmed with the payoff. Friends would recommend books to me that seemed right up my alley, but I had no motivation to borrow them. I'd walk through book stores and stare at front covers, maybe pick up one or two and read the back, but I'd usually walk out of the store empty-handed...and the few times I would end up buying one, I'd take it home, get to the second or third chapter, set it down and never pick it up again. Not that the book would be awful, I just had lost my spark for reading.
TV and movies seemed much more compelling. I love TV shows like Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development, Clone High - you know, AMAZING shows that I become deeply attached to and then are suddenly snatched away from me, leaving me a shattered wreck.
But it was summer and hardly any good TV was on, and I found myself wandering aimless at a Borders once more. I was on my way out, ready to leave empty handed, when on a display by the door sat one clearance copy of "King Dork" (It had been slightly damamged by a marker).
I really don't know exactly why this book grabbed my attention out of all the others. Possibly the title itself. But I picked it up, read the back and some of the quoted reviews and instantly became filled with something. Hope? Whatever it was, it was a strong physical sensation in my chest similar to to feeling I'd get just before I'd answer the door on a first date. I literally pulled the book to my chest and hastily ran to the register to purchase it with the glee of your stereotypical Harry Potter/Twilight fanatic.
But still, I was prepared to be disappointed. I was prepared to read a little, get distracted, then forget about it entirely...I read the first chapter as I walked out of the store, then I read the next on my break at work, then I read the next while driving home (yes, while driving) and I read and read and kept reading and couldn't put it down. I would read a chapter, then instantly re-read it because it was so entertaining. I would call my husband into the room and recite a passage, then 5 minutes later call him in again and recite another. I'd squeal, "This part is soooo me!" He hated me for it, but was also excited to start reading it as soon as I was done.

...I couldn't begin to describe how deeply I related to this character Tom - this put-upon, dorky, aloof, awkward, horny, lonely, cynical, observant, all too self-aware, witty, creative, music-loving, Catcher-in-the-Rye-hating, outcast-misfit-wannabe-nobody-punk-underdog HERO. Reading this piece of fiction was as real to me as reading my old diaries...This was my life put into a book. Not the exact events, but the exact essence...

This book made me excited to read again. Reading this book was more thrilling to me than watching my favorite TV show. And for me, that's the best compliment I could give any book.
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