Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Buddha Boy

Biblio Bits Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja, Frances Foster Books, 2003 (ISBN 9780374309985)

Reading Level/Interest Age 1090 lexile/Ages 14+

Genre Realistic fiction

Plot Summary
There's a new boy at Rucher High and he's already earned a nickname for himself because of his unorthodox behavior: Buddha Boy. He looks like a small version of a monk, with his shaved head and hippie tee-shirts, and even begs for food at lunch; though he is called Michael on the official school paperwork, he asks to be called Jinsen, which he identifies as his spiritual name. When Justin, our narrator, and Jinsen are placed in a group for a collaborative project, Justin is hesitant because he doesn't want to be associated with this new weirdo. But there's a lot more to Jinsen than meets the eye: he is a practicing Buddhist and an amazing artist. Gradually, Justin starts caring less about what people will think, and more about the ideas that Jinsen has shared with him. But the teasing that Jinsen has experienced is getting worse, as he is physically bullied and and threatened. Justin wants to be a good friend, but he's not sure how to handle this, especially since Jinsen doesn't want the school administration involved.

Critical Evaluation
This is a slim book that delivers a lot of emotional impact. The portrayal of high school cruelty is realistic; in this case, the bullies are considered the "golden" boys of the school who can do no wrong. Justin's gradual acceptance of something new, his confusion about how to help Jinsen deal with the bullying, and the mix of strong emotions that surrounds their friendship, all work together to create a convincing narrative and sympathetic main character. It was sometimes hard to find the flow in Koje's writing, since she uses some unconventional stylistic techniques to express conversation and narration. I also was not fully convinced that Justin's friends, particularly Megan, would have so quickly changed their minds about Jinsen, right after he is given a special award for art and his commissioned banner is displayed for the school to see.

Reader's Annotation
Who's that nutty new kid in the dorky hippie tee-shirt? What's with his shaved head? He looks like some kind of, I don't know, like a monk or something. Is he begging? Oh. My. God. He is coming. To. Our. Table.

Author Information
Kathe Koja was born in 1960 and has made a name for herself as a writer of the horror genre for adults. She has been recognized for her work as a writer in numerous sources and awards. Koja attended Clarion Workshop for writers. She cites J.D. Salinger, Louise Fitzhugh, and Francesca Lia Block as inspirations. Koja lives in Detroit (MI) with her husband and son. (Information in this author biography is from her official site and the Gale's Contemporary Author's Online database, 2008.)

Challenge issues
Language, language, language! Wow. This book was somehow in the Juvenile section of our library and I will be making a recommendation that its designation be switched to YA. There is some swearing, and also references to drinking, smoking, and drugs.

Booktalking Ideas
I would probably design a booktalk about the theme of bullies and bullying and all of the ways this can happen, from excluding/ignoring someone to name-calling and teasing to destruction of property and physical violence. Mostly this has to do with somehow being different from the norm (which most of us are!). Though not as light-hearted, this book reminded me in many ways of Stargirl (Spinelli, 2000). There are lots of books that deal with this topic: Parrotfish (Wittlinger, 2007), Ten Things I Hate About Me (Abdel-Fattah, 2009), and Looks (George, 2008) to name a few.

Curriculum Ties
This book would make a great selection for a class on social health issues or life skills. The topic of bullying is the primary one, and is taken to several levels which could be discussed in large or small groups. The reason why Justin befriends Jinsen is because of a school project, but what else helped Justin to "see" Jinsen in a new way? What does this say about the dehumanization that occurs when we bully or reject or ignore other people?

Why this book?
I was looking for a book to add to my collection that dealt with bullying, and this one was one I had seen on the shelves. I thought it was going to be geared to a younger audience!

International Reading Association Children's Book Award for fiction.

Rockport Public Library owns?


Anonymous said...

Funny how you say this book should be in the YA section,, because my English teacher is making this book a class reading book. And I'm in 8th grade...

Unknown said...

You people are gay

Unknown said...

You people are gay

Leticia said...

This is not gay just stop.