Book Review: Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick

Title: Zen and the Art of Faking It

Author: Jordan Sonnenblick

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 264

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

I was sick a few days ago and needed something light, so I picked this one up. It was cute. It reads a lot like Jordan Sonnenblick’s other books, young-ish YA with a snarky, sarcastic protagonist and some serious issues incorporated into the story. San Lee is a Chinese American kid adopted by white parents whose adoptive dad is in jail for fraud. San lives with his adoptive mom and is used to being moved from place to place. He tries on new identities every time he goes to a new school and he’s getting so used to lying he doesn’t seem to have a strong sense of his own identity.

Then he meets a girl named Woody and falls head-over-heels in love. He pretends to be a wise, inscrutable Zen master to impress her and pretty soon the whole school is looking to him for advice. San starts volunteering at a homeless shelter with Woody and they grow closer, but he can only keep up his lies for so long. So, this book was predictable. You know that Woody is eventually going to realize San’s been lying to her and he’s going to have to fess up, admit his wrongdoing, grow as a person, etc.

I thought Woody was going to be a ‘manic pixie dream girl’ type of character but I ended up liking her. I felt like she kind of overreacted a little bit to San deceiving her. I mean, you’re going to cry because your boyfriend lied to you about being a Zen master to make himself seem a little bit more interesting? It’s not like San’s ‘wise Asian mystic’ act exactly passed the sniff test. So, aside from San’s dad being legit abusive, the story is a little silly.

But I enjoyed it, and I liked getting to see San grow as a character and be more honest and open about his insecurities and mistakes. I would have liked to have seen Steven and Jeffrey (Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and After Ever After,) Alex (Notes from the Midnight Driver) or Claire (Falling Over Sideways) make an appearance. I love me a crossover and Steven turned out to be in a band with Alex and Steven were revealed to be friends and in the same band. There’s some very mild language and sexual content and San gets hit by his parents, but this book would be mostly appropriate for middle graders and maybe even some elementary schoolers. It’s fast-paced and energetic with a solid character arc that also serves as an interesting look at teen identity.

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