18 February 2015

King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman

I'm lucky, in a way, that I didn't read Frank Portman's KING DORK until a few weeks ago. That I way I didn't have to wait very long for the sequel to come out.

KING DORK APPROXIMATELY picks up right where KING DORK left off: Tom Henderson has (mostly) recovered from his tuba-inflicted head wound, but he's just as big a dork as before, and being in a band will only get him so much protection from the Normals out there.

I was never able to quite place when KING DORK took place, but KING DORK APPROXIMATELY includes Y2K as a plot point, so that's a pretty big giveaway. Tom's concerns about the transition from vinyl albums to CDs, Sam Hellerman's first forays into cell phone usage, letter jackets - I was instantly transported back to my own sophomore year. Apparently, Tom was born within a year of me! I know it's weird - I already empathized with him plenty before - but knowing that made it even easier to slip into his head.

There's a lot less conspiracy in KING DORK APPROXIMATELY. Much like KING DORK, it's about everything: girls, rock and roll, family, letter jackets, how terrible "normal" people are, trombones, Mountain Dew, recycling...I could go on. Despite Tom's own railing against "character arcs" in his previous explanations (the way he refers to the events of KING DORK), we got to see him grow up even more in K.D.A. as he has his first serious girlfriend, goes to school away from Sam Hellerman (after Hillmont gets closed down), and see just how much he actually does care about Little Big Tom. He even surprises himself on that one.

The narration is as quirky as ever. Tom and Sam Hellerman have taken to referring to albums by their serial number rather than their name, but Portman is helpful as ever with a guide at the back of the book. I recommend waiting until the book is over before reading it, because Tom does mention which album is which within a few pages of mentioning the number, and the entries at the back of the book are a hilarious story in and of themselves.

There's a lot less mispronouncing of words, but Tom's vocabulary continues to expand impressively, though he's not always 100% certain the words he uses mean what he thinks they mean.

It's so hard to talk about this book other than to say how much I enjoyed it and how much I laughed at it. It was even funnier than its predecessor, and it was a lot harder to put down, too.

I want to talk about the ending a little, so stop reading here if you wish to avoid SPOILERS.


Finding out that Sam Hellerman was behind the Catcher Code was not a huge surprise to me, and I was glad to see Tom was appropriately mad at him. Sam Hellerman always came off as a manipulative asshole to me, the kind of friend who's not really your friend and you don't completely realize it or admit it to yourself.

I so wanted to see Tom and Sam throw down. I like to imagine that they did. Especially in the wake of Tom finding someone who truly seems to care about him.

I really did like the ending. If you had asked me after the first KING DORK if there would ever be a sequel, I would have guessed not. And I can't imagine a sequel to KING DORK APPROXIMATELY, I would make the same guess. But I hope I'm wrong. I'd love to hang out with King Dork again.