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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 |
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 |
Richie's Picks: BUDDHA BOY by Kathe Koja, FSG/Frances Foster Books, March

"That's right: You can't play tug of war with someone who refuses to hold the
other end of the rope."

That's how a friend of mine characterized what I was excitedly telling her
about BUDDHA BOY, the superb new book by Kathe Koja. It was a foggy early
morning on campus--I'd just come from voting--and I was explaining how, in
contrast to the many stories where the bullies/jocks/student "leaders" had
the satisfaction of seeing their victims beaten down and acting victimized,
here you had a new, "strange" kid (Jinsen) who won't give them that
satisfaction. There's a point in the story where one of the school's
predators (part of the group who'd jumped Jinsen/"Buddha Boy" the day before)
corners the story's narrator, Justin, and complains:

" ' Why do you hang out with him? Why do you stick up for him? The kid's a
freak, he doesn't even belong here.' I opened my mouth, but he wasn't done;
in a weird way it was like he wasn't even talking to me, but to Jinsen
somehow through me, like I was a translator, a gateway. 'He wears freak
clothes, he acts like a freak, he sure talks like a freak--'
" ' Well, ignore him,' my voice a little better, a little stronger, but not
much. 'Just, just pretend he's not--'
" ' Ignore him! How can you ignore him? You know what he said to me
yesterday? when he, when we were-- He said, "If it makes you happy." That's
what he said. "Go on, if it makes you happy." What the hell is that
supposed to mean?' Yelling now, but again not at me: it was as if he were
arguing with Jinsen, arguing with himself, his face getting redder and redder
and 'You tell him,' poking me in the chest, big fat hot-dog finger, 'tell him
to stay the hell away from me. Just tell him that.' "

As the story begins, Justin tells us that:

"Our little group--we'd been buddies since middle school, Jakob and Megan and
me--was mostly somewhere in the middle, never invited to the big-deal parties
but not exiled to the outer limits, either. It's not a bad place to be, the
middle: it's comfortable, it's easy, and it's safe. And I'd probably still
be there if it wasn't for Jinsen."

A big part of Justin is clearly reluctant to leave that safe place.
Frequently, we find him mumbling to himself that he's not Jinsen's
friend--they just hang out together sometimes. Even Justin's friends think
that he is nuts. But Justin is truly intrigued and impressed by the boy with
the bald head, beatific smile, and incredible artistic ability:

"I was still watching Jinsen: calm gaze and careful hands, no wasted motion,
working on his print as if it were any day, as if yesterday's bad news or the
great news today were all just...part of everything, and he was just taking
everything as it came, how could he do that? How could he keep on doing
that? Balls? Luck? Karma?"

And what is Justin's role when Jinsen consistently takes it all and smiles?
Justin, who has become more and more furious about what he sees happening,

"In history, in a movie, in a book, you can always tell who the heroes are:
they're the ones rushing into a burning building, giving crucial testimony in
the courtroom, refusing to step to the back of the bus. They're the ones who
act the way you hope you would, if the moment came to you.
"But the movies and the history books never tell you how they felt, those
heroes, if they were angry or uncertain or afraid, if they had to think a
long time before they did the right thing, if they even knew what the right
thing was or just made a headlong guess, just leaped and hoped they landed
instead of falling. They never tell you what it's like to stand on the
brink, wishing you were somewhere--or someone--else, wishing the choice had
never come your way and you could just go back to your safe, ordinary,
everyday life.
"Because you know what else the books never say? Nobody, hero or not, really
wants to rush into a fire. Because fire burns."

This compelling tale of Justin's transformation firmly establishes Kathe Koja
as a young adult novelist. Hopefully we won't have to play tug of war with
the fans of her adult novels.

Richie Partington
BudNotBuddy at aol.com ( )
  richiespicks | May 27, 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -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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