264 pages; published October 2007
San Lee has been the “new kid” in school many times in his life. This move from Texas from Pennsylvania is the most difficult yet, because of what he left behind – his father and any money the family once had. Far from wanting to just be himself, San looks for an identity to hide behind and – through a series of strange circumstances – hits on Zen Master. Even he doesn’t think he can pull it off, but somehow everyone starts to buy into his adopted persona.
This excellent book was a recently selection for a library teen book club. One of the readers really nailed it when she said, “I thought it was interesting how he really is faking it, but he works so hard at faking it that by the time everyone else realizes he’s been lying, he’s kind of become what he was pretending to be.”
San Lee is completely charming as he tries to figure out how to cope with (a) moving to some tiny Pennsylvania town in winter with only sandals to wear as he slogs through the snow, (b) his father’s absence and his own anger about it, and (c) falling head over heels in love with Woody, his new school’s guitar-playing songstress and not having a clue how to act when she likes him back. A Chinese kid adopted by white parents, San trades on people’s prejudices and the fact that he’s a bit ahead of the curve when the class starts a unit on Zen Buddhism (he had a little introduction to Zen in a World History class last year in Texas). He manages to convince everyone that he really IS a Zen Master and finds himself teaching Zen free throws to the basketball team.
Jordan Sonnenblick has knack for writing humorous stories that also tug at the heart.