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Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja

Buddha Boy (2003)

by Kathe Koja

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Justin is enduring social pressure from his friends and his enemies at his rich, suburban high school, while still trying to maintain a relationship with his divorced parents by doing everything right. The problem is when you know that the “right” thing to do is also the “wrong” thing to do. Justin is faced with deciding whether to turn his back on his pals by befriending the odd kid at school who shaves his head, or join the cool crowd by making fun of the new boy who also happens to be a fantastic artist. Peer pressure and bullying are major themes of this story. Not only does Justin contend with issues of social justice in the high school arena, he is also exposed to weighty matters of poverty, death, and religion through the growing development of his hesitant friendship with Jinsen. Middle school readers and up will relate to the main character’s sometimes frustrating and challenging personal experiences, always questioning how they might act if they were in Justin’s shoes. Ultimately, this fast-paced tale of enlightenment will entertain readers with its varied cast of thought-provoking characters and true-to-life situations. ( )
  MzzColby | Oct 23, 2012 |
Buddha Boy has that feeling of hurtling towards disaster running along in the background of the whole thing. In the forefront, however, there is a great story about Jinsen and Justin. Jinsen seems not to care what anyone thinks of or does to him. Good thing, too, since he dresses, looks and acts odd, none of which gets him a bunch of friends. He practically invites kids to bully him when he starts to beg for lunch money in the cafeteria. Most of the kids do just that, either actively by throwing pennies or worse or passively by ignoring Jinsen altogether. Justin, instead, asks him why he's different.

The two boys have more in common than Justin had originally thought; they are both artists. Koja's use of language, especially when describing the boys' artwork, is beautiful. You can really see the works of art that Justin and Jinsen are creating as you're reading. Stemming from that, the rest of the book is simply lyrical. The story, even though it is set in a contemporary high school and deals with some pointedly cruel bullying, has the far away feel of a fairytale. Justin tells this story and it somehow manages to feel like it's happening in the present tense and like it's already happened at the same time. Regardless of the subject matter, it's beautiful. When you add Jinsen's attitude and actions, and the way he affects and changes Justin, the whole thing is really breathtaking.

I only had one complaint, and it's not exactly a deal-breaker. During the course of Justin and Jinsen's growing friendship, Jinsen explains a few things about Buddhism, but mostly smiles and lets Justin figure things out for himself. Jinsen lives by example. This is great and fits well with his reaction to the bullying in the story, but I did wish every once in a while that Jinsen would give a straight answer to Justin's questions. There doesn't seem to be a lot of young adult fiction dealing with Buddhism, so it would have been nice for this one to be a bit more informative.

I loved Koja's writing. I probably would have loved it even if the story hadn't been great, it was that good. Luckily, the story lived up to the writing and both worked together to create a magnificent finished product.

Book source: Philly Free Library
  lawral | Nov 27, 2010 |
Jinsen is the new kid at school, and he's strange. He wears huge t-shirts, shaves his head, and doesn't fight back when he's bullied. Not only that, he doesn't cry or run, either. He smiles to himself and continues with his day.

Justin is curious, but likes his high school social status of being in the middle and doesn't want to risk being the target of the bullies or shunned by his current friends in order to reach out to Jinsen. However, when he is paired with Jinsen for a school project, he doesn't have a choice other than to spend some time with the new kid. They develop a friendship, which Justin tries to hide from his peers at first.

This is a very short book, only 4 hours on a playaway, so it doesn't delve too deeply into the issue of bullying. But it does give a different perspective because the "victim" refuses to be a victim, but is also not an activist. He accepts the behaviors of others towards him without taking it on as his own identity. It's pretty unbelievable that a teenage boy with a violent history would begin to live a Buddhist life immediately after the death of his parents and moving to a new place to live with an elderly aunt. However, the story works. If it had gone on longer, it probably would not have. ( )
  bohemiangirl35 | Oct 11, 2010 |
Michael Martin goes by Jinsen, but the kids at Edward Rucher High School call him “Buddha Boy” or else just “freak.” And Jinsen is different. With his shaved head and ratty old clothes, he stands out. When he starts begging for lunch money in the school cafeteria, his social status is cemented into place.

Enter Justin, a regular kid with friends and a normal high school life. When he is paired with Jinsen to work on a class project, he plans to get done quickly and move on. But as he gets to know Jinsen and his way of seeing the world he finds that he doesn’t want to. Jinsen is a Buddhist and his ethical code and manner of living are foreign and intriguing to Justin. That and his remarkable artistic talent bring the boys close and they form a friendship. But Justin discovers that being Buddha Boy means being under constant attack by school bullies and as his friend, he bears some of that burden with him.

Buddha Boy is a remarkable book about friendship, a moral code, self discovery, and facing adversity. The characters of Jinsen and Justin are surprisingly well-developed for such a short book. The story itself spans a brief, but pivotal time for both boys and at its end, it seems that they will part ways, not as a matter of choice, but of circumstance. This leaves the reader with the feeling of having glimpsed into an important, formative period of their lives.

Koja’s descriptions of Buddhist beliefs and philosophy are casual and do not serve an agenda as so many writings about religion tend to and the character of Jinsen embodies the spirit of Buddhism rather poetically. ( )
  maritxu | Jun 24, 2010 |
A realistic look at the social scene of life in high school, Buddha Boy gives us perspective on what it feels like to watch a "freak" in school being bullied by a group of popular boys and yet never to complain or fight back. ( )
  bsafarik | Nov 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142402095, Paperback)

The kids at school call Jinsen ?Buddha Boy??he wears oversize tie-dyed dragon T- shirts, shaves his head, and always seems to be smiling. He?s clearly a freak. Then Justin is paired with him for a class project. As he gets to know Jinsen and his incredible artistic talent, Justin questions his own beliefs. But being friends with Buddha Boy isn?t simple, especially when Justin realizes that he?s going to have to take sides. What matters more: the high school social order or getting to know someone extraordinary?

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Justin spends time with Jinsen, the unusual and artistic new student whom the school bullies torment and call Buddha Boy, and ends up making choices that impact Jinsen, himself, and the entire school.

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