I have a few 'mini-reviews' to do - reviews that don't quite warrant an entire article - so I thought I would do them in posts here in the forum.
The first is on a Young Adult book called 'Buddha Boy' by Kathe Koja. I am always on the lookout for children's and Young Adult books that introduce Buddhism and related spiritual themes in an accessible way, so that is how I happened upon this one (and I'm glad I did.) This slim novel (117 pages) centers around high schooler Justin and his initially reluctant friendship with 'new kid' Jinsen, who begs at lunch for food, wears old clothes, smiles all the time no matter what, and is widely derided as a 'freak' amongst the high school population. Jinsen's incredible artistic talents intrigue Justin however, and as he gradually gets to know him better, he comes to appreciate Jinsen's profound spiritual values. The plot centers around others' treatment of Jinsen, and Justin's struggles to decide how or if he should try and help.
It's very readable, and the high school environment and emotional struggles of the characters felt real to me. Although it touches on spiritual themes, the author does so with a light touch - the book isn't pedantic or preachy. Most of the themes come up in brief bits of conversations between Justin and Jinsen, or in the narrative added by Justin, who is telling the story in first person. On the plus side, this keeps the spiritual undertones from overwhelming the story or characters, but it also limits the amount of information we get regarding Buddhism. As someone who has studied Buddhism extensively, some of the statements regarding the Four Noble Truths, karma, and 'gods' (a word some Buddhists are very uncomfortable with) didn't resonate exactly right for me. I wasn't wild about Jinsen begging for his lunch either, as it seemed to play into certain stereotypes regarding Buddhism. But there are many branches of Buddhism, and so many interpretations, and as long as this book isn't read as a treatise on Buddhism, I think it is good. Certainly anything that gets tweens and teenagers thinking about tolerance and spirituality is a good thing in my view!
Overall I gave it 4 out of 5 stars for this reason. You can find the book on Amazon here: Buddha Boy