TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
San Lee has moved around a lot in his fourteen years — California, Alabama, Texas, even Germany — as his family tried to stay ahead of his father's scams. Every time he moves, San assumes a new identity to better fit in with his peers, becoming a skate rat, a prep, or a wannabe jock based solely on the interests of his classmates. With his father in prison back in Texas, San and his mom move to Harrisonville, Pennsylvania. On his first day of school, San knowledgeably answers a question on eastern religion in Social Studies class. While San's answer is based solely on the fact that he did the same unit in his previous school, his classmates assume he's Buddhist because he is of Chinese descent, wears sandals, and has a cryptic name (the Laughing Archer, actually a band in Texas) written on his notebook. San likes the attention, especially that of the cute, quirky folk singer Woody, so he throws himself fully into the role of zen master. With books from the library, San learns enough about zen to reference famous sayings and stories, practice zazen meditation on a large rock across from school, and even counsel the basketball team in practicing form over results.
Through all his efforts, San becomes super popular at his middle school. Everyone knows and respects "Buddha Boy," and San loves the attention. Even better, San and Woody become quite close, working on a zen project together, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, and even shooting free throws. Unfortunately for San, he's started lying to so many people about who he is that he feels like a complete fraud. When all his lies begin to unravel right around the time of a big basketball game at school, San may find himself all alone yet again.
San narrates his own story, and he's a great character to follow. He has a sarcastic, self-deprecating sense of humor (in other words, he makes fun of his own faults and shortcomings), but he generally means well. He knows he's screwing things up by lying, but he can't seem to stop himself because, let's face it, it's always more fun to be popular. I think lots of readers will identify with San's efforts to be someone he's not, even if they may cringe at the trouble he lands himself in. As I said, San is so funny and sort of charming that readers will root for him in spite of — or maybe because of — all his failings.
"Zen and the Art of Faking It" is entertaining, easy to read, and funny enough to make you giggle at times. It also contains some basketball action for all the sports fans out there. This is a completely age appropriate story for middle school readers, say in grades six and up, both boys and girls. I'd recommend it.