What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this funny, dark, coming-of-age book has mature content that makes it most appropriate for older teens. Though not overly graphic or explicit, it is filled with references to sex, drugs, and (have to say it) rock 'n' roll. The main teen character experiences oral sex several times, and has a couple of heavy make-out sessions. Tom is constantly running down the educational system -- and this book provides a pretty harsh look at high school -- but he is a smart kid who cares about his family and likes to learn things
that interest him. This book could lead to
some valuable discussions about the realism of the high school
portrayed here -- you may want to talk to your teen about their own
experiences at school and if anything resonates here. Tom's story may have special appeal to male teen readers.
What's the story?
Tom Henderson is a decent kid on the fringes of the high school from hell -- though it may, in fact, be just like most high schools. He's persistently tormented (by boys) and humiliated (by girls), and the teachers and administrators are little better. His father died years ago under mysterious circumstances, his mother is a distant self-medicator, and his stepfather a well-meaning but inane aging hippie. Tom's only solace is his one friend, Sam, and their pastime of making up imaginary rock bands. Then he finds a set of books, including Catcher in the Rye (which everyone in the world except Tom seems to love) left by his father. Could these books contain clues to both his life and death? Maybe -- or maybe not.
Is it any good?
This debut novel by East Bay punk rocker Dr. Frank has so much going for it that it may be the literary find of the year. First, it's laugh-out-loud, still-chuckling-10-minutes-later funny, the kind of clever, sardonic, intelligent humor that will have your teens calling up their friends to read passages out loud. The humor, though, is set in high relief by the story's depth, complexity, and sophistication. There's a realism here that goes far beyond most books, either for teens or for adults. All the characters, major and minor, are more than meet the eye, and the layers of their personalities don't always fit together as smoothly as they usually do in fiction. Their lives are as complex as their personalities.
Very few ends are neatly tied up, but unlike most books that try this, it isn't frustrating at all -- in fact it makes perfect sense. Interspersed with all the plot intricacies are Tom's, and the author's, musings, bits of philosophy, rants, and outsider observations, often wickedly funny and always interesting and thought-provoking. Together it all makes for a delightful read.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about coming-of-age stories. What does that term mean -- and what are some classic examples? How does King Dork compare to Catcher in the Rye, which features heavily in this book? Does either story resonate more with your own high school experience?
A movie is being made based on this book. Will you see that movie? Who would you cast in Tom's part? If you were making the movie, what would you change, if anything?