King Dork Approximately

Book review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
King Dork Approximately Book Poster Image
Coming-of-age sequel is just as wry, mature as the original.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Insight into realities of high school. Lots of references to and discussion about classic bands, albums, songs, and musical styles. Tom may hate school, but he enjoys reading, has a strong vocabulary, and likes using unusual or fancy words for things.

Positive Messages

Themes include friendship, the importance of family (even when you sometimes can't stand them), dealing with social pressures and expectations, and self-acceptance. Bullying and the fear of being bullied (or otherwise singled out, ridiculed, or ostracized) occupies a lot of the main character's thoughts.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tom is far from perfect, but he's a realistic, ultimately well-meaning teen who cares about others deeply (even if he has a really hard time expressing it) and is dedicated to the things that he's interested in (books, music, girls), though he's cynical about the things he's not (school, fitting in). His mother and stepfather love him but are clueless when it comes to understanding him; his mother also isn't particularly present as a parent. Other teens range from quirky to cruel to "normal" (which may be the worst of all, in Tom's opinion).

Violence

As the story opens, Tom's still recovering from a serious accident that's left him with stitches and a scar; there are recurring references to that incident. Later in the book he's unexpectedly attacked again, though with less serious consequences. Brief references to cutting and self-harm by teens. A couple of angry outbursts.

Sex

Frequent references to sex and masturbation; Tom is obsessed with girls and the idea of "ramoning" (his term for having sex). He references past hookups and has some new ones. Nothing's described in explicit detail, but there's a wide variety of talk about everything from kissing to oral sex to an act called "the shocker." Tom and his friend Sam analyze girls' waist-hip ratios ("WHR") as a means of ranking their attractiveness.

Language

Frequent strong language includes "f--k" (and multiple variations), "s--t," "hellhole," "godforsaken," "ass," and more.

Consumerism

Lots of bands, albums, songs mentioned by name. Mountain Dew is the (fake) sponsor of a rock show. Coke is mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink (sometimes with the alcohol disguised as other drinks and sometimes to the point of drunkenness and passing out) and use drugs, including pills (Sam likes taking strong painkillers), and smoke weed. Few consequences.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that King Dork Approximately is the sequel to 2006's acclaimed King Dork. It picks up right where the first book left off and is very similar in both tone and content -- which means you can expect lots of talk about and references to sex (including masturbation, oral sex, and other particulars) and strong language (especially "f--k"), plus drinking, drug use (both pills and weed), and even some violent moments. Tom is obsessed with girls and music, has trouble expressing his feelings to others in words, and is constantly disparaging the educational system ... so, in other words, he's a relatable, believable teen character whom other teens will absolutely respond to, especially anyone who's ever felt like a misfit. The good news is that he's also a smart, book-reading, well-meaning kid who truly does care about others in his own way.

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What's the story?

Fresh out of the hospital after being attacked by -- among other things -- a tuba (long story) during the climactic events of King Dork, Tom Henderson is in the midst of Christmas vacation, hanging out with his friend Sam Hellerman, practicing with their frequently renamed band, and mulling over the events of the last book. He's less than thrilled with the idea of going back to Hillmont (aka "Hellmont") High, the scene of so much of his misery; imagine his surprise when he finds out that Hillmont is closing, with all the students being assigned to other high schools in the area. Tom's arrival at Clearview (aka "Queerview") gives him a whole new world to observe and navigate, as well as plenty of anxiety about his place in all of it. Meanwhile, his mother and stepfather, Little Big Tom, aren't getting along; Sam Hellerman appears to have somehow discovered a way to get girls; and Tom's long-standing crush, Celeste (aka "Fiona"), has jumped up the Clearview social ladder. Could having a real, actual girlfriend be the key to helping the world make sense?

Is it any good?

This is an appealingly honest, frequently funny take on what it's like to be a teenager. Fans of King Dork will undoubtedly be eager to check back in with Tom -- though they may need to brush up on the original, given the eight-year gap between the books' publication dates. But once you remember who everyone is and what roles they play in Tom's life, you'll quickly get caught up again in the story. Anyone who's ever felt like a misfit (so ... all of us?) will sympathize with his frustration and worries about the perils of high school, from the fear of being singled out for doing anything different to the social impact of how good-looking the person you're dating is.

Because the story takes place at the very end of 1999 and early 2000, hardly anyone uses cell phones (not to mention smartphones, iPods, tablets, or any of the other devices that are ubiquitous today) -- which, along with Tom's fixation on vinyl and classic rock bands, lends the story a certain "retro" appeal and works well with his introversion (he can't imagine why people would want to make themselves more accessible). Tom still can't stand The Catcher in the Rye, but his own wry, authentic, eyes-wide-open observations make him something of a latter-day Holden Caulfield -- albeit one with a lot more humor and self-awareness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way that King Dork Approximately depicts high school. Teens: Does it seem realistic? What parts are like your own experiences? What really resonates (and what doesn't)?

  • What role do parents play in the story? Can any of them be considered role models? Teens: How does that compare to your relationship with your own parents? Are there any admirable adults in the book?

  • This is considered a coming-of-age story. What does that term mean, and what are some classic examples?

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