Buddha Boy

by Kathe Koja

Justin finds himself drawn to the strange new kid, Jinsen, who seems to smile his... read more

Justin finds himself drawn to the strange new kid, Jinsen, who seems to smile his way through all kinds of abuse from his high school peers. Justin starts to know “Buddha-Boy,” as Jinsen is called, and is surprised at Jinsen’s talent as an artist. He begins to see beyond Jinsen’s strange, monklike habits and struggles to figure out how to be a friend to him without losing his own tenuous social position. They spend just enough time together for Justin to ask hard questions of himself as he watches the “kings of the school, strutting around like they were characters in a movie, the cool bad-good guys” try to destroy Jinsen both physically and emotionally by beating him up and ruining his artwork. Justin’s father, a well-developed secondary character, is an artist. Divorced from Justin’s mom, he is supportive, and far enough away to be useful to Justin as he sorts out his evolving respect for Jinsen and his confusion at how to handle the situation at school. When Jinsen reveals how he came to embrace nonviolence and Buddhism, it comes as a complete surprise to Justin (it turns out Jinsen was once a bully as bad as those who now torment him). Readers might find Jinsen’s “conversion” a bit unlikely. But this is nonetheless a compelling and discussable exploration of sin, redemption, and doing the right thing from an unlikely literary source: a self-designated average kid. (Ages 12–14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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