Buddha Boy

By Kathe Koja
Classification:  YA Literature
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  10+
Subjects:  high school, bullying, friendship

“’They’re called pretas,’ he said.  ‘Hungry ghosts.  Big big bodies and little tiny mouths, they eat all the time but they never get full.  Like when you have a lot of stuff, you have everything, but all you want is more.’” ~ from Buddha Boy

Summary:  Jinsen is a new kid at school, tormented for his oddities which include oversized tie-dyed tshirts with dragon motifs, his shaved head, and his serene smile.  Justin is less than thrilled to find himself paired with Jinsen for an economics project, but quickly discovers Jinsen’s remarkable artistic talent.  As Justin gets to know Jinsen and the reasons for his behaviors, Justin finds himself inspired by his new friend’s equanimity—a result of Jinsen’s understanding of Buddhist philosophy.  But when classmates go too far, both Jinsen and Justin find out how hard it is to stick by one’s convictions in the face of extreme provocation.

Notes:  A very spare amount of Buddhist philosophy is introduced in this story.  In fact, the Buddhist elements seem contrived—a reader looking to glean anything insightful in regard to the Four Nobel Truths will be disappointed.  Koja does little more than toss out these concepts in a thin attempt at character development.  On the other hand, the issue of bullying is highly relevant.  Young readers will likely relate to any number of characters as the increasingly malicious taunting plays out and adult readers can use the plot to frame dialogue with tweens and teens about the subject.
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