When San starts at a new school in the middle of eighth grade, he decides to fit in by standing out.

I'd been to schools in a lot of states — five plus an air force base in Germany — so I thought I knew what to expect when I walked into Harrisonville Middle School in Pennsylvania to start the second semester of eighth grade as the only Asian kid in school. Things went about the way I thought they would till I got to social studies, the last class of the day. The teacher, Mr. Dowd, looked like Santa's twin, complete with the white beard and the twinkle in his eye. The class looked pretty normal, but one girl caught my eye — messy brown hair, gray eyes, and tiny purple-tinted glasses. They were studying Zen Buddhism, something I knew about from my school in Texas, so when Mr. Dowd asked me a question, I launched into a long answer. When I finished, everyone was staring at me. Mr. Dowd asked if I'd studied Zen before, and I said I had, but let him think it was on my own, not in school. Class went on, till just before the bell rang, the big angry guy sitting next to the girl with purple glasses, leaned over and said, "So, Buddha Boy, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" New kid or not, I wasn't going to let him walk all over me. I said, "If a monkey howls and no one hears it, is he still a monkey?" The class cracked up— "Jones got told — Cool!"

I'd been thinking about who I'd be in Pennsylvania for days. I'd been a skater in California, a Bible-thumper in Alabama, a rich preppie in Houston, a macho jock in Germany, and it all took work, lots of work. I had to study up on the slang, music, dance moves, clothing brands. Maybe it was time for me to be someone who was a little less work. I decided I'd build on the person I'd been in social studies that afternoon, a Zen master, the ultimate in serenity — controlled, certain. I'd follow the Four Noble Truths that all Buddhists believe. An important part of Zen Buddhism is meditation, sitting and not thinking of anything at all. I could do that, in fact, I already did it whenever I could, but I called it procrastination. Now it would be my religion, my enlightenment. And just maybe it would make me interesting enough to attract Woody, the girl with the purple glasses.

The next morning before school, I found a flat rock under a tree across from the school's entrance, sat down, folded my legs, and began to meditate. Just about the time my butt was totally frozen, I saw Woody and Jones get out of a minivan and walk towards me. Yes!  It was working. Buddha Boy was here to stay!

What can happen when a poor, adopted Asian kid with a screwed-up family becomes a Zen Master, even if he's faking it? Let San tell you himself.


This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.