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BUDDAH BOY by Kathe Koja


by Kathe Koja

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: March 4th, 2003
ISBN: 0-374-30998-1
Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Koja (Straydog, 2002) gives the tried and true “oddball new student vs. the bullies” theme a well-oiled workout. Comfortably invisible within the crowd, Justin at first wants nothing to do with new transfer Michael, or “Jinsen,” to use his “spiritual name.” After all, his shaved head, oversized shirt, and habit of wandering about the lunchroom with a begging bowl quickly earn him the nickname “Buddha boy” from alpha male McManus and his circle of goons. As he watches Jinsen respond calmly to escalating harassment, though, Justin’s reserve begins to break down—particularly after he discovers that Jinsen is a superb artist, and learns that he had once been an incorrigible sociopath who had turned his life around with a conversion to Buddhism after being orphaned. Fortunately for the tale’s credibility, Jinsen’s self-possession isn’t superhuman, and after two prized art projects are vandalized, only Justin’s well-timed intervention gives him the moment he needs to regain his hard-won balance. Justin also does the friend thing by blowing the whistle on McManus, and unlike so many similar situations in teen fiction, justice is thoroughly, satisfyingly served. Koja barely touches on Buddhist practices and principles, but she does show how loving one’s enemies rather that hating them often makes them crazy, as well as securing the moral high ground. Jerry Spinelli she is not (or not yet), but fans of Crash (1996), Loser (2002), and the like will enjoy the familiar scenery. (Fiction. 12+)