Remember those after-school TV specials where the misunderstood, misfit high school student overcame all odds, learned how to be cool and discovered true love, all in 90 minutes? Well, King Dork is pretty much the total opposite of that. Antihero Tom Henderson (aka King Dork) doesn't really care about succeeding in high school all he wants is to survive the daily hazing and humiliations that mark his days in the halls of seriously dysfunctional Hillmont High School: We attended our inane, pointless classes, in between which we did our best to dodge random attempts on our lives and dignity by our psychopathic social superiors. Tom's deeply cynical attitude about life extends not only to his peers but also to his teachers. Most of them, according to Tom, belong to what he dubs the Catcher cult, and they are convinced that, since Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye changed their lives when they were in high school, they will dedicate their lives to bringing the novel to as many other troubled, misfit youth as possible. As it turns out, when Tom discovers a secret code hidden in a copy of The Catcher in the Rye that belonged to his dead feather, the novel might end up changing his life after all but not in ways anyone would have expected. About the only thing Tom isn't cynical about is music. He and his best friend front a whole series of bands, although their musical activities are mostly limited to coming up with a series of creative band names (Tennis with Guitars), stage names (Love Love and the Prophet Samuel), and album titles ( Amphetamine Low ).

King Dork's musical slant, which may remind some readers of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, shouldn't be any surprise, given that its author is the lead singer/songwriter of punk band The Mr. T Experience. Tom's expletive-laden narration ( In my head, I'm like a late-night cable comedy special ) walks the fine line between absurdity and brutal honesty and will certainly draw the attention of readers whose own high school experiences are more like a horror movie than an after-school special. Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area.

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