Travis Dandro is six when his mother tells him that the man he plays with at weekends is not just Dave, but “Dad Dave”. Dad Dave has an infectious sense of fun, a cool car – and a heroin addiction. Dandro’s striking and affecting account of Travis’s Massachusetts childhood follows the next decade, as he goes to school and moves town, and his father lurches in and out of family life.
This is a powerful debut, skilfully drawn, cleverly told and as raw as a wasp sting. It is traumatic as hell, but also includes funny, affectionate memories of joyful tickles, ant-covered cookies, bike rides, squirrels and falling leaves.
Travis’s big blank eyes stare like wonky eggs from his round face, and as the childish observer grows into an imaginative young man, his hand is rarely far from his sketchbook. Dandro presents us with dreams of monsters, classroom japes, a trip to a scuzzy flat to score drugs and grim bursts of domestic violence. It’s all given equal weight in a spare, deceptively low-key narrative, scene building on scene to compelling effect.
King of King Court’s lively drawings and child’s perspective keep the reader in the moment, but some of its images – a raised fist, a cracked egg, a leap into a swimming pool – feel frozen in time, fragments that lodge in the memory and touch the heart. “Shit happens,” Dandro tells us, and it’s up to us, and the increasingly self-aware Travis, to make sense of it all.