San and his mother have just moved to Pennsylvania from Texas. San’s father is not with them yet, and being a rather self-conscious eighth grader, San decides to project an image of Buddhism to his teachers and schoolmates, a task that is simplified by his Asian heritage. When this persona appeals to a girl that San finds attractive, he is even more determined to master the role. Predictably, events get out of hand, and San finds his threads of deceit unraveling around him as he is sucked into the whirlpool of truth.
Jordan Sonnenblick does a masterful job of channeling the American teenage male mind, with all of its passions and uncertainties, and presenting the reader a very amusing look at the social aspect of junior high school. His writing style and prose are very believable in the first person, right down to the terms and phrases that the main character both thinks and speaks. The overall message is also very positive, and although alluded to throughout the story, it was nice to see it bluntly stated near the end: “You have to do what’s right because it’s right, not because somebody’s going to give you a gold star at the end.”
The author also deals with a wide array of problems common among teenagers today: divorce, adoption, poverty, welfare, and social caste-ing are all themes that are explored at various depths. If I had any major complaints about this book, they would be centered here. The primary characters are all in situations that allow for blunt discussion of these topics, and I was hoping for more in-depth conversations than actually occurred. The book is short, and I think the addition of a couple dozen more pages to proffer some kind of food for thought would have made this work much more valuable to today’s teens. As it is, it is a fun, easy read, but the author clearly has the talent to push it just a bit further.
Rated: Moderate (for teens). Thirty instances of crude teenage terminology, with 10 uses of taking the Lord’s name in vain. (One of these 10 was the main character swearing at his mother, which I personally found objectionable, and probably factored into my rating.)