Meg's Reviews > Zen and the Art of Faking It

Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick
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's review
Nov 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: young-adult

After his father is jailed for dubious acts, eighth grader San Lee moves to a sleepy Pennsylvania town with his mother. San, who alters his identity each time he moves, which is often, contemplates which identity to assume at his new school. Should he reinstate Skater-San? Punk-San? Preppy-San?

One day in history class, San somewhat inadvertently becomes Zen Master-San. Having recently studied ancient religions at a school he attended previously, San easily answers each of his teacher’s questions about Zen Buddhism. Almost instantly, San becomes his school’s resident expert on Zen. To authenticate his new identity, San bolsters his knowledge of Zen by borrowing books on the subject from his local library, meditates, builds a rock garden, and wears sandals despite the freezing winter temperatures.

To San’s delight, he captures the attention of Woody, a spunky and beautiful guitarist. Inspired by San’s apparent knowledge of Zen, Woody suggests she and San complete a project on Buddhism for their history class. Eager to spend time with the charming and mysterious Woody, San agrees.

San enjoys Woody’s company and their blossoming friendship, but his happiness is tarnished by weekly phone calls from his jailed father, whom San despises. Tension with his mom and with Woody’s protective stepbrother further complicates San’s life. Despite these difficulties, San successfully maintains his false persona until a fateful charity basketball game catalyzes the revelation of his secret.

Having read and enjoyed another of Sonnenblick’s books previously, I held high expectations for this one. Happily, Zen and the Art of Faking It met my expectations. Sonnenblick addresses difficult topics, including adoption, crises of identity, deceit, single parenthood, divorce, and others with humor and sensitivity. In San, Sonnenblick creates an instantly likeable first-person narrator. Most readers will relate to the conundrums San faces and to his sarcastic and self-deprecating tone. Narrator Mike Chamberlain captures this tone well. At times he read too slowly, but this is a matter of personal preference and not a comment on the quality of his performance.

While I would not classify Zen and the Art of Faking It as especially literary, its likeable characters and Sonnenblick’s effortless humor will capture and maintain the interest of even reluctant readers.

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