Sonnenblick, Jordan. 2007. Zen and the Art of Faking It. (Scholastic)
Coming October 2007
I was very excited to receive an ARC of Zen and The Art of Faking It because I really loved Sonnenblick's previous novels, Notes From A Midnight Driver and Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie. In some ways, all of his books share a similar theme: young teen boys who through the course of the book discover or "find" themselves. His books all have to do with the whole growing-up-to-be-a-man process. While Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie dealt with a teen who had a brother with a serious illness and Notes From A Midnight Driver dealt with a teen who had broken the law and was doing community service, Zen and the Art of Faking It appears to deal with a less serious topic.
San Lee is an eighth grader who is transferring into a new school mid-semester. A boy who is angry at his father, who is in jail, for ruining his life all those years dragging him and his mom from state to state all those years so he could be a con artist. A boy trying to redefine himself. Each new state, each new school, he redefines himself. He tries to "fit in" with a different group and project a different image. In his first few days at this new school, he begins to define himself into someone that this Beatle-girl, Woody, would like. He describes her in this way, "you took one look at her and knew she was hearing a different drummer. Maybe even a different kazoo. For all I know she might have been waltzing to the color of a differnt smell. She was out there anyway" (13-14). During the first stage of his transformation, he becomes--after a lunchroom encounter with his dream girl--a "shy whistler. Not much to pin a whole personality on, but it was a start" (19). But soon after, he becomes a 'zen master' all in the name of love.
It all started like this. He was in social studies. With Woody. The girl of his dreams. San Lee just happened to know the answer to the question the teacher was asking. San Lee had to ask himself, am I a shy kid who is smart and speaks up when the teacher asks a question...or a shy kid who mumbles "I don't know" when called upon. He decides to go for it. He answers the teacher's questions about zen/buddhism. Soon after a classmate, a bullying kind of guy, starts to call him Buddha boy. So San Lee decides to go with that. If people want to assume that he is Buddhist because he is Chinese, then why not go with that? Especially if this Beatle-girl is impressed by his mastery.
So what is the first thing San Lee does? He heads straight to the library to begin his research. If his classmates want him to be a zen master...then he had better get started. And thus begins a small deception...as San Lee begins to 'fake' his way through school and make friends in the most unexpected places. Will he be caught in his lies? Is there a price to pay for his deception? Can he really be true to himself and keep maintaining his image?
One of the trends of 2007 that I've noticed is the theme of lying. In one book after another, it seems that each narrator either accidentally or purposefully gets caught up in one lie after another...and has to pay the consequences for his/her deception. We see that in Harmless, Kimchi & Calamari, Lost It, Now You See Her, Tall Tales, and now Zen and the Art of Faking It. The book that most closely parallels Zen and the Art of Faking It is Kimchi & Calamari. Both feature Asian kids adopted by white parents who in the process of finding themselves end up in a tangled deception all in the name of love, friendship, and popularity.
Overall, I enjoyed Zen and the Art of Faking It. I was not disappointed, this is another quality book from Jordan Sonnenblick. While I still feel Notes From A Midnight Driver is my favorite of the three, I think Zen and the Art of Faking It will find many eager readers.
another review of Zen and the Art of Faking It