Every middle schoolers most important subject? Personal identity. Who am I? Who will I be tomorrow? San Lee, having been moved around the country by his scam artist father, has had ample opportunity to reinvent himself, but now that his father is in prison and San is starting school in a new town, he decides to deviate from his past personae and become "something completely different. I didn't actually hear the beat of a different drummer, but maybe I could pretend to be unique."
When his social studies teacher starts the class on a unit on Buddhism, which he had at his last school, San decides that he could use his previous knowledge, along with the fact that he's Asian, to become the school Zen master. This ploy works well, especially since it attracts Woody, a folk singing soup kitchen volunteer, to his cause. The two get to spend time together on a project, at the kitchen, and working with the basketball 'B' team, teaching them Zen principles to improve their game.
This works well for a while, ultimately blows up, and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. The introduction of Buddhist philosophy is fascinating and accessible. What makes this a must-read is Sonnenblick's voice and attention to detail. Quotable turns of phrase abound in all of this man's works, and this is no exception. My favorite (pg. 104) : "This might have been the first recorded instance of a nun and a librarian trying to set a fake Buddhist up with a dentist's folksinger daughter for a hot soup kitchen dishwashing rendezvous." Wow. Sonnenblick takes quirky and makes it normal; he takes gut-wrenchingly sad moments of adolescence and makes them something that can, and should, be chuckled over.
Buy two for the library and one to keep at home. I didn't even tell my children I had this in my possession until I was done reading it, to avoid the inevitable fights over the book!