Frank Portman penned one of my favorite books of 2006, the immediate personal classic King Dork. I’ve been waiting for Portman’s follow-up ever since. King Dork took a fearless look at the challenging world of high school and the music obsession that made it bearable for one student. For me, the novel was Instantly Relatable.
Portman’s new book, Andromeda Klein, is here at long last (well, it came out in August, but still). The author once again mines the universal experience of high school angst. Though he hits on some of the same almost universal themes of teen age alienation and dread, Portman has created a wholly original character in the tormented Andromeda Klein.
Andromeda Klein is a skinny high school student . Her mother and father are each hopeless in their own way. Her best friend has died of leukemia. Their relationship was often rocky and unbalanced, and that doesn’t help Andromeda deal with the loss. Andromeda is also cursed with a hearing disorder that makes it difficult to properly hear what others are saying. She’s just a weird kid. Even with all of that, it’s difficult at first to decide if Andromeda’s problems at school are real or imagined:
The period immediately after school let out was perilous. It was impossible to know for certain which after-school clusters of students would be overtly hostile, but it was wise to avoid them all, just in case….They could throw rocks at you or even thrust a stick through your spokes to knock you off your bike, and then…well, it had never happened to her but she’s seen it happen to others, and she didn’t want to find out what they would do next. A few kids yelled at her unintelligibly as she zipped past, or at least, she was pretty she was the one they were yelling at.
Either way, Andromeda’s problems are real to her. Her anxieties send her inward, deeper into her shell. Andromeda develops an obsession with the occult in an attempt to attach some external meaning and order to the world around her. She is believer in tarot, and spends much of her time reading her cards to parse the hidden clues about her experiences and her future (the cover shows her tarot deck stashed inside a carved out book). Andromeda also dabbles in larger and more complicated rituals that she gleans from her readings of occult/mystical literature by Alistair Crowley, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, A.E. Waite and others on banned book lists everywhere.
However unique she may be (and she definitely is), Andromeda’s problems are the real problems that face teens everywhere. Her responses to those challenges are at turns hilarious and deeply disturbing. As you might suspect, a quiet, moody loner dressed in black obsessed with the occult might attract unwanted attention from school authorities in a post-Columbine world. And speaking of unwanted attention from school authorities, forget Harry Potter, Andromeda Klein has real teenagers engaging in carefully described occult activities – magic(k) – with references – it is SO going to be banned.
Portman’s two novels to date are both marketed at the “young adult” crowd. Don’t be turned off by what is basically a marketing designation. He doesn’t dumb down his view of real high school issues – but don’t mistake these for After School Special-style message books either. They are top notch novels that should appeal to people who like good books, whatever their age. I’m already waiting for the next Portman novel.
Stay Tuned: Come back tomorrow to check out my interview with Frank Portman.
Sharing the love: I have an extra copy of Andromeda Klein to give away. If you’d like a free copy on us, leave a comment by 10 PM (EST) Friday. We’ll pick and notify a winner shortly thereafter.
Frank Portman has written a theme song for the book. I, for one, would love to see more of this kind of thing.