A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Adopted boy lies to peers, telling them that his whole family is Chinese. Reference to boys' basketball team playing "like a bunch of little girls." A single mom struggles financially while her husband serves time in jail. Two teachers and a librarian are strong adult role models. A mother has antiquated ideas about diversity and San's Chinese background.
Violence & Scariness
One punch in the nose. A father and mother hit and slap their son.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A 13-year-old boy and girl flirt and almost kiss. Sixth grader can't go home for one hour while his older sister is in the house with a boyfriend.
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Some use of "freakin'" and "screw you."
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Products & Purchases
Mainstream products include: Nike, KFC, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Xbox, iPod, Madonna, Britney Spears.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this book is a sure hit with both male and female middle school readers. The dialogue keeps the tone light while the book touches on heavy themes, including lying by the main character (for starters, he's adopted from China and tells peers his whole family is Chinese), a con-artist abusive father in jail, a mother and son struggling financially, another mother deserting her daughter and husband, and a bully punching the main character. There's some mild wishful romance, and at the end there is a lesson about facing the truth.
Is It Any Good?
Teen readers will relate to San's attitudes toward his classmates -- bullies, girls, jocks -- and his awkwardness around other kids. But the author missed an opportunity to talk more about racial attitudes and stereotypes; it's all handled too subtly. Ultimately San teaches readers what happens when lies are revealed, that is, about the importance of character and humility.
Who wants to stand out in the middle school years? Certainly not San Lee, the main character in ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT. There's so much going on in San's head that his insight into his world -- though it seems unrealistically developed for his age -- is a real treat for the reader. His crush on a female classmate is full of authentic details, he relates his anger toward his father to his constant lying to classmates, and his self-deprecating humor and sarcasm are spot-on funny.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
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