Kathe Koja's BUDDHA BOY audiobook: bravery, bullying, complicity and opting-out

Last week, I reviewed the Full Cast Audio adaptation of Kathe Koja's wonderful YA novel "Kissing the Bee", and Full Cast were good enough to send me another of Kathe's books in audio form, the 2003 Buddha Boy. Buddha Boy is the story of Justin, a kid at a pricey, clique-riddled high-school who just goes along to get along — until he meets Jinsen. Jinsen, a transfer student, is an otherworldly, shaven-headed, maddeningly calm and artistically gifted student whose bizarre behavior (trolling the lunch-room with a begging bowl) and strange appearance make him into a magnet for the school bullies.

As the story goes on, Justin has to come to grips with his complicity in the savage and cruel bullying that Jinsen is faced with, the complicity of the bystander who does nothing, even as his friend Jinsen shows him an entirely new way to deal with bullies: to simply refuse to join the narrative they're recruiting you for. This strategy is not without its consequences, but it is also so shocking and new that it forces Justin to reexamine his life from top to bottom, from his academic passions to his spirituality.

As with Kissing the Bee, the Full Cast Audio adaptation of Buddha Boy is skillfully acted and edited, bringing out nuances in the story with a cast of talented actors, including some very gifted young people in the principle roles. The story twists and turns, and never quite goes where you think it will — and like all of Koja's YA novels, it contains an elegant and simple emotional truth at its core that will have you vowing to be a better person by the time it's done.

Buddha Boy (CD)

Buddha Boy (paperback)