I spend a lot of time pondering references to ‘pop icons’ that are too old to be meaningful to the YA audience. I’m sure there are those who would like to debate this point with me by saying things like: maybe a reference the reader isn’t familiar with will pique their interest enough to actually get them to look it up or check it out… (I have a teenager, so let me say: not likely, thanks for playing) or, kids are smarter than you think. (True and for the record, my objections are not to undervalue the intelligence of the YA reading audience — only their life experience.) Seriously, I believe there’s nostalgia and then there’s huh?
Still there are times when an old reference is totally and completely called for and maybe even relevant AND where the author has handled the introduction perfectly. When I see it done right I want to shower praise.
Today’s winner is King Dork by Frank Portman
Portman wants to make a point about the book The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and here’s how he sets it up on page 12:
“…The AP teachers survey the class through their Catcher in the
Rye glasses and…
Oh, wait: I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this
book from the fifties. It is every teacher’s favorite book. The main guy is a
kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a real dreamboat. they love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book
itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives
when they were young. As kids they carried it with them everywhere they went.
They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives
to spreading The Word.
It’s kind of like a cult.
They live for making you read it. When you do read it you can feel them all standing behind you in a semicircle wearing black robes with hoods, holding candles. They’re
chanting “Holden, Holden, Holden…” and they’re looking over your shoulder with these expectant smiles, wishing they were the ones discovering the earth-shattering
joys of The Catcher in the Rye for the very first time.
Too late, man. I mean I’ve been around The Catcher in the Rye block. I’ve
been forced to read it like three hundred times and don’t tell anyone but I
think it sucks.”
Okay… I’m reading this and cheering at this point. I don’t know the importance of The Catcher in the Rye to this book (I haven’t finished it yet.) But I he did an amazing job setting it up.
Check out the cover of King Dork… (click the link, it will take you to the Amazon page — I’ll wait.) Look very closely at the cover of the book. King Dork and Frank Portman’s name are scrawled on a cover of another book with the actual title scratched off but you can totally figure out what book it is. Ha!
Great! Totally subtle. I can’t wait to see how this ties in.
BTW: I heard about King Dork at the August SCBWI conference (in LA) I sat in on two seminars where Portman and his book were mentioned. One was his agent and the other his editor at Delecorte Press… They raved about the guy and from what I’ve read so far, they’re not wrong.