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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Book Review

Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Justin attends a wealthy and elite high school. When a new student arrives wearing a baggy tie-dyed shirt and begging for money, Justin’s friends and classmates think he’s a freak. He calls himself Jinsen, which he says is his spiritual name, but the kids nickname him Buddha Boy.

Justin gets paired with Jinsen for a class project and begins to discover a depth in the boy he has rarely seen in other people. Jinsen is an amazing artist, and he possesses a sense of peace that allows him to ignore the mistreatment he receives from other students. Justin finds himself drawn to Jinsen, even though Justin’s friends don’t understand it.

A group of bullies led by the student McManus repeatedly hurts Jinsen. They also destroy several art projects that took awhile to create. Justin becomes increasingly angry and urges Jinsen to fight back. Jinsen tells Justin about his past and how he was kicked out of several schools for his violent outbursts. His parents tried everything to help him. Then a drunk driver hit and killed them.

Jinsen was catatonic in his grief until a therapist named Kim helped him discover his love for art and taught him about Buddhism. His Buddhism has helped him remain peaceful and realize that there are gods inside of everyone. Justin begins to question his own parents about faith. His father attends a church with an organ and stained glass windows, and his mother becomes defensive when the topic of religion comes up.

When Justin is finally able to show some of Jinsen’s work to the art teacher, the instructor helps Jinsen get a scholarship to a prestigious art school. Justin finally tells the administration about McManus’ behavior, and the bully is suspended. Even though Jinsen will attend a new school, he and Justin remain friends. Justin adopts some of Jinsen’s ideas about karma and all people being gods.

Christian Beliefs

Justin says he thinks his dad is Christian. Jinsen has some Christian items displayed along with his Buddhist ones.

Other Belief Systems

Jinsen contends that all religions are about the same, even though people dress differently and use different words. Justin disagrees, saying Catholics, Muslims and Jews have nothing in common except they all think the others are wrong. Jinsen says God is the same everywhere, no matter what you call him, her or them.

Jinsen later says all people are gods and have gods inside of them, even people like his enemy McManus. Jinsen’s therapist, Kim, gave him his spiritual name, which means fountain of God or the place where God springs up in the world. Kim taught him how to talk to his mom again by praying and how to be simultaneously strong and open. Jinsen says people are all like hungry ghosts.

Justin initially says he doesn’t believe in any religion and doesn’t think about God. When Justin starts asking his mom about religion, she gets nervous and calls his dad. He later asks Dad what he knows about Buddhism, and he tells Dad he might want to visit a Buddhist church. He asks Dad if religion is a good thing. Dad replies that some of the best and worst things in the world have been done in God’s name. Justin begins thinking more about Buddhism and believing in ideas like karma.

Authority Roles

Justin’s parents are divorced, but both are supportive of him and amicable to one another. Jinsen’s father gets fed up with the boy’s violence and says he washes his hands of his son, shortly before a drunk driver kills him and his wife in a car accident.


The Lord’s name is used in vain. Words including the f-word, s---, p---, f--got, b--tard, b--ch, d--n, h---, a--hole, crap, butt, balls and suck appear. Jinsen recalls hitting a kid in the face over and over with a reference book back in his violent days.



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Religions: If children or teens have read this book, parents may wish to discuss the tenants of Buddhism and Christianity, as well as discuss the fallacy that many paths and religions, alone or in combination, lead to God. To help parents do this, consider downloading "Agents of Truth"https://focusonthefamily.webconnex.com/co-agents-of-truth, a free resource that teaches kids to have a ready defense for these types of challenging issues.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 19


Kathe Koja






Record Label



Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)


On Video

Year Published



Bulletin Blue Ribbon, 2003


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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