Monday, March 24, 2008

Don't ever tell anyone anything

Today is the last day of spring break. Yes, we get an extra day; it's Good Monday or something. Still, after ten whole days of spaghetti-O's and daytime TV, it's off to work tomorrow. Ah, comme c'est triste.

Speaking of haiku, here's an all-too-sad one on current events.

I took a year of Chinese ten years ago, and I've tried to stay at least at the level of a six-year-old in the Slow Learner class since then. I recently started meeting a tutor for an hour a week. When she emailed me about our first meet, she said, 'I'm Chinese with shoulder-length black hair." Not a very illuminating description, since (a) I knew she was Chinese and (b) all Chinese people have black hair. Also, she failed to mention her most distinguishing features: her glasses and wheelchair. Huh.


I read a terrific debut young adult novel by Frank Portman (aka Dr. Frank of Mr. T Experience), King Dork. I loved it.

It's sort of a postmodern meta-commentary on Catcher In the Rye, but more than that, and hard to explain. The title high school outcast (Henderson, or the more derogatory Chi-Mo) narrates the events that occur over one school year, when the discovery of his dead father’s books from high school (Catcher among them) open up disturbing questions about just how he died.

Meanwhile, having to deal with the "psychopathic sadists" at his school (students and teachers alike), girls he lusts after, making and breaking codes, learning French, having an expansive vocabulary, and the perils of forming a rock band all complicate his life --- the more so because every new thing in his life seems to connect to the past in some way. It all hinges on that old copy of Catcher in the Rye of his father’s, despite how Henderson views with contempt the Baby Boomer generation and their "cult of Holden."

The various threads of the plot are so convoluted and revealing (there’s a lot of foreshadowing and clues and delicious ambiguity) that I can’t do it justice with a summary. Portman has simply crafted an amazing joyride of a "young-adult" novel; it’s hilarious and poignant at the right moments, and ends up somehow being not only a commentary on music, literature, teaching, adolescence, sex, and family, but very much a Catcher for the 21st century.

Though this is touted as a YA novel, it hit home with so-not-young me for a lot of obvious reasons (I was an outcast in school, I deliberately cultivate an expansive vocabulary, I was part of the Catcher cult between 15-20 years of age, I studied French, etc). It’s really an amazingly well-crafted novel for anyone of any age who distrusted or distrusts "normal" people.

The only thing that didn’t feel right to me was Henderson’s take on music: he listens only to punk, glam rock and bubblegum. While I’m sure there are a few teenagers today who profess to enjoy only music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the music is presented only in album form: there’s no talk of mp3s or CDRs or even mixtapes. Clearly, this is Dr. Frank, born 1966, talking about the music he loves, and not Henderson, who is 15 in 2001. That’s a nitpick, though. Seriously, if I had read this book in high school, it may have Changed My Life. Just like Catcher did.

I'm such a dork, in fact, that I wrote a brief note to Frank about how much I liked it. He wrote back and said it was good to hear from someone who "gets it."

1 comment:

Churlita said...

That's so cool that you wrote the author. I always want to, but then I'm too lazy.