King Dork, by Frank Portman

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The Catcher in the Rye changed Tom Henderson’s life. But not in the way you think – he’s not a part of the Catcher cult, who carry the book everywhere and idolize Holden Caulfield as the perfect teenager. It was Tom’s dead father’s copy of the book that changed his life, when Tom finds a mysterious note written inside. Notes in several of Tom’s father’s old books lead him into a strange conspiracy involving his father’s death and the Vice Principal’s seedy past. At the same time that Tom is investigating the mystery of his dad’s library, he is also trying to navigate the strange world of girls, several of whom suddenly and strangely drop into his life. Add to this the daily struggle that is high school, and Tom’s best friend Sam’s constant re-vamping of their band, and Tom’s life is suddenly very complicated.

Portman’s first novel is a brilliant, cynical look at the life of a high school dork. That he leaves the plot’s complex intricacies fairly open-ended and unresolved at the finish of the novel was a perfect reflection of Tom’s high school life, where nothing ever has any deeper meaning. The Catcher in the Rye allusions add another layer to this pastiche of a teenager searching for something. Tom’s narration is caustic, thoughtful, and most of all funny. It is easy for most readers to relate at some level to a clever outsider, and Tom fills that role well. However, Portman never lets his novel fall into the typical YA cliches. Instead, he consistently challenges and surprises the reader, and also treats them to a really excellent book.

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