Tired of always trying to fit in every time he moves to a new town and attends a new school, eighth-grader San Lee decides to be totally different this time around and see what comes of it, yet his knowledge of Zen and his unusual behavior result in something totally unexpected when those around him begin to accept him as the Master of Zen. 40,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)
Upon moving to a new town yet again, thirteen-year-old San Lee looks for a way to stand out and finds it in his knowledge of Zen Buddhism, but he will have some work to do if he is to be a convincing Zen master. - (Baker & Taylor)
When thirteen-year-old San Lee moves to a new town and school for the umpteenth time, he is looking for a way to stand out when his knowledge of Zen Buddhism, gained in his previous school, provides the answer--and the need to quickly become a convincingZen master. - (Baker & Taylor)
Meet San Lee, a (sort of) innocent teenager, who moves against his will to a new town. Things get interesting when he (sort of) invents a new past for himself, which makes him incredibly popular. In fact, his whole school starts to (sort of) worship him, just because he (sort of) accidentally gave the impression that he's a reincarnated mystic.
When things start to unravel, San needs to find some real wisdom in a hurry. Can he patch things up with his family, save himself from bodily harm, stop being an outcast, and maybe even get the girl?
When eighth-grader San Lee moves to a new town and a new school for the umpteenth time, he doesn't try to make new friends or be a loner or play cool. Instead he sits back and devises a plan to be totally different. When he accidentally answers too many questions in World History on Zen (only because he just had Ancient Religions two schools ago) all heads turn and San has his answer: he's a Zen Master. And just when he thinks everyone (including the cute girl he can't stop thinking about) is on to him, everyone believes him . . . in a major Zen way.
San Lee sees a chance to reinvent himself. His father is in jail for fraud, and San and his mother have moved to Pennsylvania. Used to moving around for his dad's work, and often feeling out of place as a Chinese adoptee, San decides on a different strategy this time. When he learns that his social studies class is studying Buddhism, he slips into the persona of a Zen master—eighth-grade version. Most impressed is his adorable classmate, Woody, the person for whom he continues the charade, even as he continually enrages her stepbrother. There's lots to like here. The story moves at a brisk clip, and San's first-person narrative, though occasionally over the top, is filled with funny asides. But one crucial misunderstanding is so clear that readers will see it as the plot device it is, and the book never really takes into account that even though San is faking, the advice he proffers in his master mode is actually helping people. Still, this is a good choice for getting religion onto fiction shelves in an appealing way. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews
"People were always telling kids to be themselves, but either they didn't mean it or they didn't tell you how to go about doing it when everyone else was trying to push and pull you into line." Such profound observations seem to come easily for eighth-grader San Lee, self-proclaimed Zen master at Harrisonville Middle School. In fact, San has not reached enlightenment; rather, he's perfected the art of being a new kid, and his current persona is no more genuine than any of the other roles -- skate punk, bible-thumper, preppy -- that he adopted at the string of schools he attended in the past. Sonnenblick's narrator is funny and articulate, and he makes a persuasive case that maybe the best way to fit in at a new school is to stand out. But San's deception undermines his growing friendship with a girl named Woody, and the more he lies, the more he starts to remind himself of his father, in prison for fraudulent business practices. Comical scenes, such as San and Woody's attempt to use Buddhist wisdom as basketball coaching techniques, balance the harsher details of their family lives. And San discovers that pretending to be Zen is actually making him more Zen; as one of his teachers tells him when he confesses, despite all his research on Buddhism, to feeling clueless about life, "then you're wiser than you think." Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Adolescence is a time when teenagers ask the all-important question, "Who am I?," but for San Lee, an adopted Chinese boy starting eighth grade in a new school, the question has particular urgency. Luckily, Sonnenblick pens this story, so all that soul searching is side-splittingly funny as well. San, suddenly poor due to his swindling father's incarceration, becomes the only Asian child at Harrisonville Middle School. That, combined with the fact that he once did a project on Taoism and Zen Buddhism at another school, causes him to come up with a new persona: Buddha Boy. Having learned the art of the con at his father's knee, San, now a "Zen Man with a Zen Plan," manages to convince almost everyone, most importantly the girl he likes, of his superior spiritual knowledge. The irony is that by allowing the lies to pile up, this faux Zen master becomes like the one person he doesn't want to be. Hilarious and heart-wrenching. (Fiction. 12-15) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
After San Lee's adoptive father is imprisoned for fraud, the eighth-grader moves with his mother from Texas to Pennsylvania. He has moved often, each time creating new identities; this time he pretends to be a Zen master. He sits zazen on a cold rock near school each morning and says things like, "Thank you for teaching me the lesson of impermanence" (this piece of wisdom comes after a foe ruins his schoolwork). As he hopes, his "uniqueness" impresses Woody, a folk-singing girl with her own family heartache. Together, they embark on a school project about Zen, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and even devise supposedly Zen strategies to help the second-string basketball team take on the starters (this includes a practice game on roller skates). Naturally, they fall for each other, although San thinks she has a crush on a mysterious stranger. Readers will know that it is only a matter of time before San is exposed as a "fake, adopted, research-based Buddhist," but Sonnenblick (Notes from the Midnight Driver, see Paperback Reprints) gives them plenty to laugh at (in one scene, Woody calls on insect-phobic San to remove a centipede from class because of his well-known "reverence for all living things"). Mixed in with more serious scenes (San finally writes his father a letter expressing his anger), these lighter moments take a basic message about the importance of honesty and forgiveness and treat it with panache. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
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School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 7–9— San Lee is once again starting a new school. This time it's in Pennsylvania, but they're all really the same: same lunch menus; same classes; same everything. The only thing different in each one is San. Whether it was as a skater dude in California or a Bible-thumper in Alabama, he has reinvented himself at every new school in order to fit in. So who will he be in Pennsylvania? Certainly not himself, the poor adopted Chinese kid whose con-artist father is in prison. This time he wants to be someone different, someone who stands out instead of blending in. Someone who Woody, the intriguing guitar-playing girl in his social-studies class, would find attractive. That definitely isn't San…but it could be. With a little tweaking to his background and some research on Zen Buddhism, he may just become the most popular kid in school. From the teachers to the nuns to the students, the entire cast of this novel is fully developed. The breezy and natural writing style captures eighth-grade dialogue perfectly and the plot is both realistic and original. San Lee's story is that of a brilliant and amusing underdog, and middle schoolers everywhere will identify with his desire to be someone, even if it's someone he's not.—Heather E. Miller, Homewood Public Library, AL
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