Title: Zen and the Art of Faking It
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Narrator: Mike Chamberlain
ISBN: 9780739371558
Pages: 264 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs/ 5 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008 (print Scholastic, c2007)

San Lee has just moved to a new town (again) and has a chance to reinvent himself instead of being the adopted son of a con-man father who is now in jail and a mother who works long hours. So when the kids at school accidentally gets the impression that he’s some sort of Zen mystic, he decides to go along with it. Especially because his meditation in the snow catches the eye of Woody, a girl with her own history and drive to recreate herself.

I didn’t have the instant connection with Zen and the Art of Faking It that I did with Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie or After Ever After. The main characters of those other novels are introspective and mature and the stories are weighted with emotion. This story is less so, and at times San appeared abrasive to me. With the popularity of Wimpy Kid, I can see his attitude appealing to teen readers. He does work harder than Wimpy Kid in trying to accomplish his goals, however misguided those goals are since he’s encouraging his classmates to think of him as a Buddhist expert. San is extremely dense and essentially clueless, which got on my nerves. For example, something that bothers and troubles San for most of the novel I had figured out the first time they gave the clues, and was therefore yelling at my radio every time they mentioned it for the rest of the book. I did like that Sonnenblick took a chance at portraying Buddhism in a teen fiction book, since we see it presented so infrequently in literature. I thought applying the philosophies to every day events like basketball helped bring understanding and might encourage more exploration in the religion.

My apathy towards the book might have something to do with my listening experience. I had a hard time connecting with narrator Mike Chamberlain, with his efforts coming across as overly exaggerated and I can’t decide why. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but he didn’t have enough range to distinguish between all the characters, and I got confused over who was speaking several times.

Overall, this book is a coming of age story, and if older Wimpy Kids are looking for something similar I might hand it off to them. The “Happily Ever After” ending however is nothing like Wimpy Kid, and seems a little disingenuous with all the miscommunications that involve San. Personally, I would stick with Jordan Sonnenblick’s other novels.

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