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Buddha Boy
By Kathe Koja

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Buddha Boy
By Kathe Koja
Read by Spencer Murphy and the Full Cast Family
Full Cast Audio, (2004)
An Unabridged Audio Recording on 3 CDs
ISBN: 1-932076-53-0
Genre: Young Adult - Teen Fiction

Reviewed by Herbert White - July 23, 2004

Being the new kid in school is never easy. Being new and different can be nearly unbearable. Yet when Jinsen comes to Edward Rucher High, he is taunted unmercifully, yet he doesn't seem to mind. Jinsen, a.k.a. Michael Martin, is a Buddhist who sports a shaved head and a begging bowl. His looks alone make him an outcast, and he is an easy target for the bullies because he refuses to react to their actions. Justin, another student at the school, is bothered by the treatment that Jinsen receives. However, he is not bothered enough to do anything to stop it. Nor is he willing to befriend his classmate, who has been saddled with the moniker Buddha Boy.

Justin's standoff attitude is forcibly terminated when he is paired-off with Jinsen for a class project. As he begins to learn about Jinsen, Justin discovers that Jinsen has a keen mind and is an outstanding artist. In learning about Jinsen, Justin also learns a bit about Buddhism. The more Justin learns about Jinsen, the closer their friendship grows. However in the close-knit, stratified high school world, if you associate with an outcast, you may well find that you become one yourself.

Buddha Boy is a poignant novel by Kathe Koja that describes the treacherous tightrope that some students must walk if they wish to survive high school life. This story does contain some strong language. Nothing that cannot be heard on cable TV or in the movies, but strong enough to make this book unsuitable for younger readers. Primarily, this book deals with prejudice. Koja presents the story of a deeply religious boy in a compassionate manner, without being condescending. Buddha Boy tackles the consequences of prejudice, and the price that sometimes comes with being a true friend. This is a thoughtful, and memorable story that will engage teen readers. Buddha Boy is also a great conversation starter, providing a starting point for families, school groups, and peers to talk about why High Schoolers place so much importance on status and clicks, and what can be done to make High Schoolers more open to individuals who might be seen as different.

Buddha Boy is available in both print and audio formats. The audio version is performed by the ardent actors at Full Cast Audio, who make listening to this book comparable to listening to a live play. Each character in the book is read by a different actor. Spencer Murphy stars as Justin, and Mike Stevens as Jinsen. The Full Cast Audio production includes an afterward that is read by book's author, Kathe Koja.

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