Andromeda Klein is the second YA novel by Frank Portman, aka Dr. Frank of East Bay punk band The Mr. T Experience. Like Portman’s first book, King Dork, there is very little about Andromeda Klein that resembles run-of-the-mill young adult literature.
Even the simplest plot description showcases how truly weird Andromeda is: she’s a high school student/magic disciple attempting to decode the dream messages she is receiving from her dead best frenemy. This isn’t harmless, whimsical, nose-wrinkly “Bewitched”-style magic, and Andromeda isn’t just quirky or offbeat – think more along the lines of deeply alienated and borderline schizophrenic. Much of the book’s action takes place during metaphysical adventures and detailed analyses that take place entirely in her head. That means there’s not a whole lot of real-world action or real description of anyone else until well into the book.
Portman definitely has an ear for the extensive vocabulary of inside jokes that are integral to teenage conversation. The book even includes a “lexicon” glossary of the many terms, used throughout the book, that require extensive etymologies that are intertwined with Andromeda’s personal history. Andromeda is hearing-impaired due to a congenital bone disorder (osteogenesis imperfecta) and the words that she hears mangled are written as she hears them (i.e. “action-populated” for “discombobulated”) and then used in their misheard form throughout the book as a sort of shorthand. Sound confusing? It is. The continually changing and encoded text places the reader directly inside Andromeda’s head, which is a volatile and, as Andromeda would say, action-populated place to be. In addition, the book includes frequent detailed and wide-ranging references to occult history that are only sometimes explained. All this well-researched detail is impressive and provides a lot of credibility and atmosphere, but sometimes to the point that they cloud the narrative.
Still, Andromeda Klein is worth a try for fans of young adult literature, if only because it’s refreshing to see a book about a teenage girl battling psychological demons and venturing into the darklands of her own mind. Portman hints at very dark subject matter but never really delves into the dysfunction present in Andromeda’s friendships and family life. Details that are important to the plot, like her sexuality, are often implied but ultimately open to interpretation, and the ending leaves a lot of conflicts unresolved. It’s still a fun read, but readers, like Andromeda, are left grasping at the few clues Portman’s universe provides.