“Zen and the Art of Faking It” by Jordan Sonnenblick is a realistic fiction novel about a boy who invents a better personality for himself so that he can be popular at his new school.
San Lee has a lot of experience with blending in. His family moves quite regularly, and at each school San Lee gets a chance to build a new identity so that he can blend in with the pack. In California he was a skater. In Houston he was a rich preppy kid. In Germany he was a pretend-jock. But now San Lee is in a new place: a small town in Pennsylvania. And he is also facing a new situation: his family is no longer rich. His father is now in jail, busted for embezzling funds and cheating people in numerous states.
Now San Lee no longer has the funds to outfit himself in cool clothes and join one of the traditional school packs. The government took everything his family owned and they are still in debt while they pay off what San Lee’s father stole. San Lee doesn’t even have any sneakers, just a pair of sandals. And in the cold winter air of Pennsylvania going without sandals or a coat isn’t exactly comfortable. But even worse than that, it also means that San Lee can’t fit in to any of the other’s children’s groups.
So when San Lee inadvertently acquires the nickname Buddha Boy he decides to run with it. If he can’t fit in then he better do his best to stick out. San Lee decides to use his Asian genetics, his sketchy knowledge of Zen Buddhism, and a good bit of shear luck to carve out a custom place for himself.
Little does San Lee know just how far things will go. Before long he has attracted Woody, a charming girl with long hair, alluring gray eyes and a love for playing guitar. When San Lee and Woody are assigned to work together on a class project on world religion it seems natural to Woody that they cover Zen Buddhism. Of course, this prompts San Lee to do a lot of unintended research to maintain his “religious” appearance.
Before long San Lee will have to overcome his life long fear of bugs to prove that he accepts the Zen monk’s policy of respecting all animals, even insects. And he will also start “meditating” each morning on the cold rock just out front of the middle school.
But things get worse. The local basketball team adopts San Lee as their unofficial mascot after a group of middle school teens become convinced that San Lee might be a reincarnated mystic, perhaps Buddha himself. San Lee is starting to think things have gone too far, especially since Zen Buddhism means that he must repudiate “earthly desires”, and that means he can’t date Woody, who he has a secret crush on.
Jordan Sonnenblick has created a humorous and charming novel. “Zen and the Art of Faking It” is fun to read, while at the same time teaching important lessons about honesty. The plot has a perfect ending which stresses the importance of telling the truth, especially to a girl that you love.
But educational aspect aside, “Zen and the Art of Faking It” is a great, recreational read. I’m sure that San Lee’s escapades will be enjoyed by many readers.
I definitely recommend “Zen and the Art of Faking It” by Jordan Sonnenblick to all middle grade and older teen readers.
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Inkweaver Review 2010-11-09T08:02:00-06:00