In many ways, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! is a deceptively simple book. While some parts of the novel are not entirely believable—Natalia’s penchant for rhyming when she is nervous, Dinky’s defacement of the streets and sidewalks, and Helen Hocker’s treatment of virtually everyone—M. E. Kerr deftly mixes humor and pathos in a way that will keep the attention of the reader. A summary of the novel’s somewhat melodramatic plot does not do justice to its many humorous moments or to its treatment of important themes, particularly the need of teenagers for strong adult relationships in their lives, the frequent hypocrisy of the adult world, and the difficulties of developing honest relationships.
To some extent, each of the four teenagers in the novel are ignored by the adults in their lives. Tucker’s parents are concerned with getting new jobs or education, Natalia’s mother has committed suicide and she has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle, and P. John’s father and Dinky’s parents are more concerned with social causes than with the welfare of their own children. As a result, their children are slowly becoming cynical, particularly in the light of what appears to be hypocritical adult behavior. Tucker is asked to create fictions about the world in which he lives, referring to Brooklyn as “Brooklyn Heights” and saying that his mother works at Arrow Publications instead of Stirring Romances. Dinky’s mother conducts therapy groups for drug addicts and yet tries to hide the fact that her niece has mental and emotional problems, at the same time encouraging her daughter’s addiction to food.
Without positive reinforcement or role models, Tucker, Natalia, Dinky, and P. John all have a difficult time developing relationships with their peers. Tucker and Natalia can only talk to each other by creating puzzles and games, while P. John and Dinky cover up their insecurities by deliberately offending others. It is only when parents and children are forced to confront their problems and recognize their true feelings for one another that they gain a degree of happiness.