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Thanks to “pending litigation” and “media scrutiny,” Tom Henderson has just been sent to a new institution of higher learning—and man is it bleak.
Clearview High is filled with the nauseating odor of school spirit. Worse than the scent, though, is the total lack of Sam Hellermans, and the confusing abundance of girlfriends. The rules have all changed. Except for the part about how you can never find a drummer who can count to four. Good luck with that one.
From critically acclaimed novelist and pop-punk icon Frank Portman comes the companion to the cult classic King Dork. It feels like the first time. Like the very first time.
Praise for King Dork and King Dork Approximately
“One of the best young adult creations.” —AVClub.com
“[No account of high school] has made me laugh more than King Dork. . . . Grade A.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Impossibly brilliant.” —Time
“Provides a window into what it would be like if Holden Caulfield read The Catcher in the Rye.” —New York Post
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I was doing the thing where you look in the mirror and try to decide if you recognize the face staring back at you. And I did recognize it. The bruises were coming along nicely, little rings of black, purple, and yellow, as if some evil hippie scientist had figured out a way to tie-dye random areas of my entire body with dark, foreboding colors, as a grim warning, perhaps, to any who dared question the sacred doctrines of recycling, organic dishwashing liquid, and the Doors. A centipede snaked across my forehead just under the hairline, the transparent legs of which, doctors had told me, would soon dissolve, leaving a legless centipede of scar tissue that would itself eventually fade to almost face color. At the moment, though, it was like a third, off-center eyebrow of fishing line. My hair, as I’ve already explained, was too short to cover the centipede in front, which was unfortunate, but looking on the bright side, I supposed it would allow me to test the conventional wisdom that chicks dig scars. I couldn’t resist stroking it. “We shall see, my little centipede,” I whispered. “We shall see.”
If I held my head at just the right angle and blurred my eyes up a bit, it didn’t look all that bad. Bruised as it was, I could work with it.
So I started to do the thing where you think of all the women you’ve had and pretend you are the Lord and Master of the Universe, making grandeur-deluded Mussolini eyes with an Angus Young lip curl and a slight head-bang, left hand idly positioned with the fingers draped over an invisible, floating guitar neck while the right index finger makes a series of rhythmic stabs, in time to which you growl tunelessly, under your breath, something like “I’m a live wire, live wire, I’m a live wire. . . .”
Don’t try to tell me you’ve never done this. Be honest, you were probably doing it just now. Also, don’t try to tell me that when you were doing it you didn’t at some point become conscious of a threatening presence behind you and slightly to your right. Everyone gets caught practicing eventually, is what I mean, especially when you live in a house full of annoying family members, like you probably do. In my case, the figure standing in the bathroom door that I should have remembered to close and lock happened to be my reliably inconvenient younger sister, Amanda.
Her thoughts were clearly visible on her face, as though written there in Magic Marker. “Ah,” they ran. “And another piece of the puzzle falls into place.”
But what she said, with her voice, in a withering, partially italicized tone, was:
“Hey, Live Wire. It’s your other half on the phone.”
She was holding the telephone like a TV remote control, pointing it at me as though deciding whether to switch the channel.
“How much did you see?” I asked.
“All of it, Live Wire,” she said. Then, after a pause, she repeated “All of it” and walked away shaking her head in an exaggerated manner, as she did in response to pretty much everything. Fortunately, she’s family, so what she thinks doesn’t matter.
Now, “other half” is a euphemism for “mate” or “spouse” or any other person with whom you have what they used to call “sexual relations” on a regular basis. It’s meant as sweet-natured ridicule, implying that once two people have begun, you know, ramoning, they no longer have individual identities. It’s kind of sad and beautiful when you pause to think about it--one of the English language’s more lyrical insults, if “lyrical” means what I think it does. And an optimist might have assumed, knowing this history, that the voice on the other end of the telephone would be a female one.
But if nearly fifteen years of walking around on this godforsaken hellhole of a planet in the midst of its godforsaken hellhole of a society has taught me anything, it’s that this kind of optimism is rarely warranted. My godforsaken hellhole of a sister’s mocking, italicized tone said it all, transforming a gentle romantic put-down into nothing more than yet another tedious gay joke, the kind of thing that the normal people of the world, even up to and including your own sister, never ever ever ever seem to tire of. In other words, I was not at all surprised that the voice coming out of the telephone was not that of a female but rather that of a dude. Well, technically, anyway.
“Satan?” it said.
FOR IT WAS HE
“Mussolini, actually,” I replied, marveling at the voice’s keen powers of observation and deduction. All it had needed to hear was Amanda’s mocking “Live Wire” to know what she had discovered me doing in the mirror.
“Better stick to Satan,” said the voice.
“But I thought you were Satan,” I said.
“We can all be Satan,” it said, and I could see its point, which was actually pretty beautiful. The rock and roll Satan face was just the rock and roll Mussolini face with the addition of a flicking tongue. I could do that.
“Did you get the letter?” said the voice.
Letter? What letter? And who, or what, was this mysterious voice?
Okay, you know what? I’m already tired of this “for it was he” gimmick, “the voice” and everything. You and I both know it was Sam Hellerman on the phone. Who else would have been calling me to talk about Satan and Mussolini and whether I’d received some letter? He was pretty much the only person I knew.
“What are you talking about, Hellerman?” I said. For it was he. “What letter?”
It was hard to interpret the silence that followed.
“Meet me in front of Linda’s in forty-five minutes to an hour,” he finally said.
“Will you be the one wearing a yellow carnation?” I said, because the conversation sounded a bit like we were being spies, and that’s a joke I sometimes make when proceedings have taken a spylike turn. It’s from a movie, probably, though I couldn’t tell you which one. One of those old black-and-white ones where the guys’ pants come up to their chests and Humphrey Bogart has to stand on a box just out of frame to kiss the tall ladies.
“And bring the stuff,” said Sam Hellerman, ignoring my brilliant carnation gag. Okay, Agent X-T9. I decided to give the carnation joke one more try sometime soon and then, if it didn’t get a laugh, retire it for good. Why no one thinks it’s funny is beyond me. I had planned to say something along the lines of “Just tell me what fucking letter. . . .” But he had hung up.
“Christ, what an idiot,” I said under my breath. I was referring to myself. Sam Hellerman, as I’ve often remarked, is, despite considerable flaws, a genius. I’m just the one who always falls for it, whatever scheme he’s working on, in which I am occasionally the target but more often a mere pawn in some grand plan beyond my understanding. He’s that kind of guy.
THE IRON FIST OF THE SANTA CARLA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Sam Hellerman, Sam Hellerman . . . Sam Hellerman. I believe I’ve already said all that needs to be said about Sam Hellerman. Our association began long, long ago, in the mists of elementary school. The state, having determined that its interests would best be served by turning the lives of its citizens into a living nightmare at as early an age as possible, had entrusted the day-to-day soul-crushing process to the local Santa Carla County School District. And the District found that its iron fist could most efficiently grind the aforementioned souls into a fine, terrified, inert paste if the bodies they animated were clearly marked and organized in a rigid, alphabetically ordered grid, like books, or socket sets, or fireworks. This system placed me--Henderson, Tom--always and everywhere either to the right or directly behind Hellerman, Sam. When the District’s iron fist wanted to torture one of us, it had only to flip through the letters till its murderous index finger alighted on “H.” And there we were. Teachers, parents, and their minions (the psychotic normal students who occupied the rest of the alphabetical grid) would obediently spring to action to take care of whatever was left.
I don’t know why we ended up remaining in our assigned positions even after school, at home, onstage, pretty much everywhere. It was the path of least resistance, perhaps. And it was only natural to band together with whoever was closest at hand once the inevitable assaults began. But eventually, over time, one way or another, we got used to standing next to each other, which is pretty much the living definition of friendship.
In a way, I should be grateful to the state’s iron fist, even though I am its sworn enemy, because I doubt I’d have been able to make a friend on my own. And then I wouldn’t have had anyone to be in a band with once I discovered rock and roll.
Oh, you haven’t heard our band? Encyclopedia Satanica? Well, that’s what it was called at the time I’m describing--that is, at the beginning of Sam Hellerman’s phone call about the letter. You should have seen the logo: so squashed-together and spiky that it was completely illegible. No way anyone was going to be able to read that thing. And it was really more of a sinister cult than a band. By the end of every show all audience members, especially the ladies, were thoroughly brainwashed and eager to do our bidding like sexy robot zombies. (That’s why we’d been putting more effort into rehearsing our faces lately. I mean, obviously.) Now, that, my friends, was a great band. I miss it.
One of our best band names ever, too. And looking back, I’d have to say, upon careful consideration, that it was almost definitely a mistake to change it to I Hate This Jar, based on a jar my mom was having trouble opening when I walked past the kitchen just after Sam Hellerman told me to bring the stuff and hung up on me.
“I hate this jar,” said my mom, like I said, holding the jar in question in both hands and banging its lid against the counter edge.
“Good band name,” I said almost involuntarily, sealing Encyclopedia Satanica’s fate before I could stop myself. It’s just a reflex, but once it kicks in, there’s no going back. The Tomster on guitar and vox, the Samster on bass and never looking back, the Shinefieldster on the drumster. First album--
This train of thought was stopped in its tracks when another train crashed into it and derailed it, scattering the first train’s cars and passengers in a bloody, tangled, screeching mess all over the thought countryside. Because my mom was really bashing the hell out of the jar in question, and it was weird. I mean, it just didn’t seem plausible that a human being, even my mom, could hate a jar quite that much. Though that weirdness was part of why the event warranted being memorialized in band name form for at least a few hours, it still didn’t compute, and the way I’m wired, I tend to take note of things that don’t compute and worry about them helplessly in that quiet, detached, brooding way I have.
Now, I don’t know how well you know my mom, but even though I technically, and even literally, love her, I’d be the first to admit she has her quirks. A lot of them are charming, and even some of the less charming ones are mostly forgivable because she’s pretty. She dresses like the costume room of a community theater exploded and landed on her. She professes to believe the most preposterous new age nonsense even though it is clear that in reality she doesn’t believe in anything at all. She likes the Doors, and I’m not even exaggerating all that much. Also, she is unpredictable. And I don’t mean just unpredictable as in, she’ll get up and make a two-foot-high stack of pancakes in the middle of the night, or start tap-dancing on an airplane, or put a skillet on her head and sing “You Are My Sunshine” in a cartoon mouse voice when you least expect it; she’s done all those things, though honestly she hasn’t done anything that . . . what’s the word here . . . “exuberant”? She hasn’t done anything that exuberant in a long, long time.
No, by unpredictable I mean that even though her usual mode is subdued, distant, and silent, she can go from catatonic to berserk in a matter of seconds, well before it’s possible for people within her blast radius to know what hit them. This behavior got a lot more noticeable after my dad died, I think, though it’s hard to tell for certain because I was only eight and I’m pretty sure my “we’re a happy family” memories of that time are well padded with fake content that my mind invented and placed there in order to underscore how bad things got afterward. What I’m saying is that if there’s anyone you might expect to overreact to a jar, it’d be my mom. But even for her, this seemed excessive.
I rounded the corner where the hallway juts off from the kitchen’s mini-hallway, mainly to replace the phone in its little saddle thing before getting the hell out of there, because things were seeming like they could get pretty tense and uncomfortable at any moment. Quick as a striking cobra, Amanda’s arm shot out and took possession of the phone, hardly allowing any plastic-on-plastic contact at all. She had, as usual, been silently shadowing me, waiting for her first phone-snatching opportunity. She likes to keep control of the phone as much as she can, carrying it around as she used to carry her dolls when she was younger, so much so that I tend to think of them, the phone and Amanda, as a single unit, the Amanda-phone. For all I know, she dresses it in little outfits and rocks it and pretends to feed it when no one’s looking. The purpose of this--the carrying, if not the dressing and feeding--is to discourage others from using it, to be sure, but it’s also to monitor who is talking to whom. She fields all calls that come in, sighing heavily and saying “Hold, please” when it’s not for her, and handing the phone off to the appropriate person like some hostile secretary.
I was just shooting Amanda a puzzled look concerning the jar when I heard the voice of Little Big Tom, husband to my mom and fake dad to Amanda and me. And all became, well, not clear, but about as clear as anything ever gets around here.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I would like to thank Delacorte Press & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review. Goodreads Teaser: "From Frank Portman comes the long-awaited sequel to the beloved cult classic King Dork, of which John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, said, “Basically, if you are a human being with even a vague grasp of the English language, King Dork will rock your world.” Aside from the stitches and the head wound, Tom Henderson is the same old King Dork. He's still trying to work out who to blame for the new scar on his forehead, the memory loss, and his father's mysterious death. But illicit female hospital visitations, The Catcher in the Rye, and the Hillmont High sex-pocalypse have made him a new man. What doesn't make you stronger can kill you, though, and tenth grade, act two, promises to be a killer. Tom's down one bloodstained army coat, one Little Big Tom, and two secret semi-imaginary girlfriends. Now his most deeply held beliefs about alphabetical-order friendship, recycling, school spirit, girls, rock and roll, the stitching on jeans, the Catcher Code, and the structure of the universe are about to explode in his face. If only a female robot's notes could solve the world's problems, he'd have a chance. But how likely is that? King Dork Approximately--it feels like the first time. Like the very first time." Having read King Dork I must admit I was eagerly anticipating more of the same with this sequel. But sadly, for me, this book came off feeling forced. What made the original story charming and quirky felt contrived and overdone in the sequel. That's not to say that there weren't some entertaining parts in the story, just that overall I found this one to lack the magic of the original. While there were parts that rang true to the characters we'd come to know and love in the first book, they were simply to few and far between. Even the writing felt stilted, which was supremely disappointing. The whole book was a letdown for me.