Kathe Koja, Author . FSG/Foster $16 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-30998-5

Koja (Straydog) accomplishes quite a feat with this novel narrated by high school sophomore Justin: she explores the tenets of Buddhism via an unlikely friendship between two classmates. Justin does not understand the odd behavior of transfer student Michael Martin, why he has a shaved head and begs for his lunch ("Like a monk, you know?" says Michael). But after a teacher pairs Justin with Michael—who goes by "Jinsen," his spiritual name—for a project, he begins to gain some insight into Jinsen's actions. The author cleverly structures the novel as a flashback, even as events unfold chronologically, so that readers can benefit from Justin's newfound knowledge of Jinsen's spiritual practice. For instance, the second chapter begins with a brief explanation of "karma" ("Karma means that what you do today, and why you do it, makes you who you are forever: as if you were clay, and every thought and action left a mark in that clay... but there are no excuses,... no I-didn't-really-mean-it-so-can-I-have-some-more-clay"), allowing Justin to circle back to this idea throughout the narrative. Koja convincingly paints Justin as "somewhere in the middle" of the high school social strata, so that when he takes a risk for Jinsen, who is taunted (called "Buddha Boy") and physically threatened by his classmates, readers see how far Justin has progressed in his own self-realization. A compelling introduction to Buddhism and a credible portrait of how true friendship brings out the best in people. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/06/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-932076-52-3
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-60252-522-1
Prebound-Glued - 117 pages - 978-0-7569-3117-9
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Prebound-Sewn - 128 pages - 978-1-4176-8572-1
Paperback - 117 pages - 978-0-14-240209-2
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Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-32731-2
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