Booklist Reviews

Gr. 9-12. From its subtle cover, featuring the title superimposed over the yellow lettering on a vintage red copy of Catcher in the Rye, to its intelligent, self-deprecating, opinionated narrator, Portman's novel is a humorous, scathing indictment of the current public education system. Sophomore Tom Henderson is bored with AP classes in which creating international foods and a "collage and Catcher" curriculum pass for academic instruction. What does he do to engage his mind? Along with his best friend, he invents a new band every few hours--a band name, cover art, song titles--no matter that neither boy owns a guitar. The guys aren't popular; they're picked on by the alpha sadists in gym class and nicknamed in humiliating ways, but they still survive. A mystery about the death of Tom's father and the caricatured assistant principal's illicit activities are weakly executed, but Tom's voice carries the story. Mature situations, casual sexual experiences, and allusions to Salinger suggest an older teen audience, who will also best appreciate the appended bandography and the very funny glossary. ((Reviewed May 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Soundtrack of a high school antihero

Remember those after-school TV specials where the misunderstood, misfit high school student overcame all odds, learned how to be cool and discovered true love, all in 90 minutes? Well, King Dork is pretty much the total opposite of that. Antihero Tom Henderson (aka King Dork) doesn't really care about succeeding in high school—all he wants is to survive the daily hazing and humiliations that mark his days in the halls of seriously dysfunctional Hillmont High School: "We attended our inane, pointless classes, in between which we did our best to dodge random attempts on our lives and dignity by our psychopathic social superiors."

Tom's deeply cynical attitude about life extends not only to his peers but also to his teachers. Most of them, according to Tom, belong to what he dubs the "Catcher cult," and they are convinced that, since Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye changed their lives when they were in high school, they will dedicate their lives to bringing the novel to as many other troubled, misfit youth as possible. As it turns out, when Tom discovers a secret code hidden in a copy of The Catcher in the Rye that belonged to his dead feather, the novel might end up changing his life after all—but not in ways anyone would have expected.

About the only thing Tom isn't cynical about is music. He and his best friend front a whole series of bands, although their musical activities are mostly limited to coming up with a series of creative band names (Tennis with Guitars), stage names (Love Love and the Prophet Samuel), and album titles ("Amphetamine Low").

King Dork's musical slant, which may remind some readers of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, shouldn't be any surprise, given that its author is the lead singer/songwriter of punk band The Mr. T Experience. Tom's expletive-laden narration ("In my head, I'm like a late-night cable comedy special") walks the fine line between absurdity and

brutal honesty and will certainly draw the attention of readers whose own high school experiences are more like a horror movie than an after-school special.

Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

"King Dork" Tom Henderson discovers his late father's copy of [cf2]The Catcher in the Rye[cf1], and the coded messages hidden within lead him to investigate his dad's death, exposing past corruption and present scandals. While the detached, ironic tone grows tiresome and the slow-building mystery makes little sense, Portman's hilarious satire of high school rituals keeps the pages turning. Glos. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

A biting and witty high-school satire explores cross-generation mysteries and music. Tom "Chi-Mo" (short for "Child Molester") Henderson is used to being a nobody, and entertains himself by designing band names: Baby Batter, Oxford English, Tennis with Guitars. Every year Tom's teachers force him to read Catcher in the Rye, the book that changed their lives. Though Tom scoffs at what he calls "the Catcher cult," the book is about to change his life, too, if not in Mr. Schtuppe-approved ways. Tom finds his dead father's copy of Catcher in a box of old books, chock-full of margin notes and mysterious scribbles. Further investigation reveals murder, suicide and illicit sex comprising both current and 40-year-old mysteries. Tom investigates his father's past while forming a real (terrible) band, discovering blow jobs and surviving a skull fracture. He gains personal revelations that both reject and embrace his parents' generation and its Holden Caulfields, in a story richly flavored with 1960s cult novels and 1970s rock-and-roll. The open-ended conclusion is unexpectedly satisfying. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection

Tom describes events during his sophomore year. Several themes evolve throughout the novel, primarily Tom's obsession with the life and death of his father. His family is, at best, dysfunctional. In the end, Tom realizes the turmoil in which his father was embroiled during his adolescence and adult life. Author Frank Portman creates an interesting view of an emotionally troubled teenager searching for answers. Unfortunately, pertinent information is sandwiched between irrelevant and confusing events. References to 1960's and 1970's culture and rock music further limit interest, making the book appropriate for students who enjoy introspection without expecting deep insight into human behavior. Additional Selection. Cynthia Schulz, Ph.D., Manager of Learning Resources, Northwest Educational Service District 189, Anacortes, Washington © 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

LJ Express Reviews

Tom "Chi-Mo" Henderson is the King Dork at his suburban high school, where every English teacher worships at the altar of The Catcher in the Rye. Tom believes that their affection is misguided until he finds his late father's battered copy in a box in the garage. The book starts an adventure that involves "dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism.." You get the picture. Why It Is for Us: The best moments in this book play on the stupid ways we grown-ups try to stay connected to the teens in our lives. Tom's stepfather (also a Tom, "Little Big Tom") is a good man with the hard job of helping bring a smart, cynical, music-lovin' Dork to adulthood. A chronology of band names (Tom and his best friend, Sam, go through 25 names for their band in five months) and a glossary (with delightfully mish-mashed pronunciations) end the book on an uproarious note. You'll never hear the song "Glad All Over" in the same way again. Be sure to catch Portman's next book, Andromeda Klein, out this month.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Told from the perspective of Tom, a "brainy, freaky, oddball kid who reads too much, [and is] so bright that his genius is sometimes mistaken for just being retarded," this debut novel expresses a cynical view of high-school life and a teen's passion for rock music. Much of the story focuses on a seemingly endless string of humiliations and tortures dished out by Tom's teachers and sadistic "psychotic normal" classmates. A more compelling and subtly drawn subplot details mysteries that Tom is trying to solve: Was his father's death a few years earlier really an accident? What is the meaning of the coded messages found in his father's copy of The Catcher in the Rye ? (The key role of Salinger's novel is hinted at by this book's telltale vintage burgundy cover, on which "King Dork" is written over Salinger's title.) When he's not playing Sherlock Holmes or dodging bullies (the types who "try to trip you anonymously and knock you over as you go by in the hallway"), Tom daydreams about the band he plans to form with his only friend Sam. Budding rock musicians and students with a grudge against the public-high-school scene will most relate to Tom's narrative. If the protagonist's battle with peers and a tyrannical associate principal grows a little tedious at times, the author's biting humor and skillful connection of events will keep pages turning. Ages 14-up. (Apr.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 10 Up -Original, heartfelt, and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel tells the story of a 14-year-old outsider, Tom Henderson. For him, life is a series of humiliations, from the associate principal who mocks him to the popular girls who put him on their "Dud list." The teen takes refuge in music, writing songs, and inventing band names with his only friend, Sam. He looks for a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in a box of books left by his father, a detective who died under strange circumstances. Tom sets out to read each volume, decode the secret messages that he finds, and figure out who his father really was. The daily torments of life at Hillmont High School play out brilliantly in ways that are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Sexual references and encounters abound, and the language is frank-oral sex is a frequent topic, as is drug use by teens and adults-but none of it is gratuitous. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, with digressions on music, popular culture, high school customs, literary criticism, and general philosophical observations, but Tom is so engaging that most readers won't mind. He's intellectually far above most of his peers but still recognizably a teen in his obsessions. The plot's mysteries come together for a conclusion that is satisfying but doesn't tie up all the loose ends. This dazzling novel will linger long in readers' memories.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library

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Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Losers Sam Hellerman and Tom Henderson have shared an alphabetical-order friendship for most of their years in school. The nerdy twosome now attends Hillmont High School, where they are tormented relentlessly by students and faculty alike. Tom and Sam make up mythical bands-complete with accompanying musicians, song lyrics and album covers-twenty-five bands to be exact. Catcher in the Rye is the mainstay of the Hillmont English Department, and Tom is totally against the "Catcher Cult." Leaving the book behind at school with an assignment due, he rummages through his deceased father's teen library hoping to find a replacement copy. When he does, he discovers messages, secret codes, and a funeral card tucked inside. So begins the mystery of unraveling the real cause of his father's death and who is the mysterious "Tit" who corresponds with his dad in the book's margins. At the same time, Tom is learning to attract hot girls while avoiding a loopy associate principal who runs a teen porn ring Although the writing is very clever, the sentences ramble on. The sarcastic humor will appeal only to mature teens with an interest in 1960s novels, heavy metal music, oral sex, and random beatings. The denouement is too bizarre to be believable, and the included sketches and glossary of English words seem out of place in a work of fiction.-Kathie Fitch PLB $18.99. ISBN 0-385-90312-X. Glossary. Illus. 2Q 2P S Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.