King Dork is a near-perfect YA book. The narrator is engaging, acerbic, hilarious, and totally relatable for anyone who ever was a punky freak at theKing Dork is a near-perfect YA book. The narrator is engaging, acerbic, hilarious, and totally relatable for anyone who ever was a punky freak at the high-school level. Thank God this book is in the first person. There are two mysteries here that require sleuthing, both around identity: one is a mystery of marginalia in Tom’s deceased father’s teen book collection, one is around a disguised mod girl he made out with at a party. Tom is preoccupied not only with individual identities but generational identity, and part of what made this book personally interesting is that it is preoccupied with the relationship between baby-boomers and late-era gen X folks. If my math is correct, King Dork takes place in the late 90s or early 2000’s. This was a brilliant way for Portman to avoid having to incorporate text messages and social media, neither of which were missed by me. The clueless baby-boomer characters were my favorite part, in particular, the snaggy step-dad “Little Big Tom" and the brutish gym teacher.
I LOVE that this book avoids the typical YA trap of being a slave to the character arc. A quote:
“In movies and books there’s always this thing called a character arc, where the main guy is supposed to change and grow and become a better person and learn something about himself. Essentially, there’s supposed to be this part right at the end where he says: ‘And as for me, well, I learned the most valuable lesson of all.’ Now if I were the main guy in a movie, I’d have the most retarded character arc anyone ever heard of. I didn’t learn anything. What’s the opposite of learning something? I mean, I knew stuff at the beginning that I don’t know anymore. Bits of my life simply disappeared. I’m more confused than I ever was before, and that’s really saying something.”
The sex and drugs, which seem to piss off a majority of GR reviewers, seemed spot on and frankly a little on the tame side. The other area of controversy is that Tom tends to (shock!) sexualize any fair maiden in his life who is not a blood relative. Foremost, I don’t think it’s prudent to judge a YA novel on what messages it holds for the reader—or worse what it can “teach” the reader. This is my main peeve in people’s attitudes around YA. By the time most of us are old enough to hold a chapter book, we’ve already been inundated with all shades of societal BS. If King Dork is the most screwed up thing you’ve ever encountered as a young adult, then there’s a harsh road ahead; you deserve to have your life view throttled by exposure to a worse den of iniquity than that of the suburban King Dork world. I can see why someone might be weirded out that Deanna Schumacher or Fiona/Celeste would invite Tom over for a little hanky-panky in the off hours, and sure, Deanna Schumacher contributes to the old “f-ed in the head, wild in bed” mythos. That said, I think each of these girls has the clear upper hand in their respective situations. I am pretty disturbed that so many reviewers are using the word "slut" to describe these characters in the same breath as the word "feminism." So any teen who likes giving blow jobs is a slut with no self esteem? Ugh and puh-lease. So Tom doesn't "really care" about these girls. Do these girls care about him? Face it, teens are into boning (63% of them by senior year, supposedly). Better this glamorous model than the one most of my high school friends suffered through.
The thing that freaked me out was the bullying, which was pretty intense if you ask me. I know this is a hot topic in education (I don’t live under a rock!) but I don’t really know if the bullying here is plausible. That said, plausibility schmausibility. I don’t really think it matters.
Joan Didion is an incredible writer. It is a shame the story is a bit played out (or maybe just dated):
A starlet divorcee suffers the feminine mystiquJoan Didion is an incredible writer. It is a shame the story is a bit played out (or maybe just dated):
A starlet divorcee suffers the feminine mystique post-break-up. She has a back-alley abortion and issues with aging and Daddy. There's not much to like about her personality, but It's Okay because she's a)hopped up on pills, b) pretty enough to lay and c)losing her marbles. She detaches further and further and further.
We watch it happen. Whoo, ennui.
And yet this book has it's haunting moments. And prose, the lovely prose.
p.s. I love despicable characters, believe you me. Maria just was not my personal brand of heroin. There's something simpering about her, and I get the distinct notion that She Is Absolved because the world is so cruel to sexy starlet divorcees. They are not exempt, anyway....more
Like Stephenie Meyer's Bella Swan, Laurie Halse Anderson's Melinda appeared to her in a startling dream. The startling dream compelled her to write thLike Stephenie Meyer's Bella Swan, Laurie Halse Anderson's Melinda appeared to her in a startling dream. The startling dream compelled her to write this book which has been captured on film and rereleased in a glossy platinum addition. I am wracking my brain for what fodder exists in my dreamlife, but NOTHING. I will never be a YA starlet.
SPEAK is what my librarian pal calls "an issue novel." It chronicles a year in the life of Melinda, a depressed tween who recedes into the background of freshman year. She fails classes; she can't relate; she's limp with suburban ennui. She is all but mute. We know early on she is burying something, and that something is pretty obvious (especially if you peek at the catalog info for the Library of Congress). It feels strange to treat this as a mystery, but I suppose it is true to trauma and how a person pulls away.
what i love most about this book is the collage of actual voices, sign quotes and thoughts from the speaker/interviewer. this choice has heft; it realwhat i love most about this book is the collage of actual voices, sign quotes and thoughts from the speaker/interviewer. this choice has heft; it really goes for the gut and i love that. i listened to a (fascinating!) interview with C.D. Wright about her process and it reminded me so much of the social science research we do at my day job. now i am stoked about data collection/poetry research overlap!...more
Set along New England highways (with many a shout-out to my current home of Providence, RI), this is a sort of Little Red Riding Hood in which "Red" iSet along New England highways (with many a shout-out to my current home of Providence, RI), this is a sort of Little Red Riding Hood in which "Red" is a 32 year old father/drunkard (and sometimes his 34 year old wife). En route to fetch his spawn from a summer at camp, he obstinantly turns to drink even though the roads are a wreck. Dismayed, his wife storms off without him to teach him a lesson. Emasculated by his bitter half, he allows himself to become overfed on the sauce with the same "i'll show her!" intentions in mind. He enters a destructive fugue state he calls "going into the tunnel"--a mindspace involving confessional blathering, poor impulse control, and blackouts--and tries to bond with (and assist!) a criminal on the lam. He also, amusingly, wants to process Manhood and Maleness ad nauseum with the criminal, who is clearly disenchanted with the protagonist. All the while, his wife meets her own worse fate. It turns out the two incidents are linked in a cruel and improbable O. Henry scenario.
Of interest to me is the way the characters beatify sexual assault (the aftermath, not the throes) and present it as a route to holy interconnectedness. Through shared trauma they experience shame and forgiveness and thus they can mend their damaged marriage. Hmmmm.
Also of interest is the treatment of compulsion here--the protagonist's compulsion to drink, the criminal's compulsion to assault.
This book is no where near as good as The Widow, which I am savoring and adoring as we speak. That said, I am so impressed that Simenon wrote each of his 200 novels and 150 novellas in intense 6-to-11-day periods. This is a page-turner and his spare writing is lovely, even if I found the logic to be convoluted. I have a feeling I will be reading many more of these "roman durs"....more