Sunday, June 7, 2015

Please don't make this a movie: Zen and the art of faking it.

I wanted to try a new thing out, kinda the opposite of telling you all about good books that might make good films. I want to tell you about a book that, while pretty good for its age group, would NOT make a good movie. Zen and the Art of Faking It.

I read this book one day subbing for an eighth grade class who was collectively reading and discussing it (or SHOULD have been.) and because I had recently finished my previous book and had brought nothing to read. As good as an excuse as any, I suppose.

It's the tale of a constantly displaced eighth grader named San Lee who gets his kicks by creating a new persona every time he moves. After all, he's not staying around for long, why should he be his boring old self when he can be whoever he wants.

He and his newly single mother (and broke, the reasons why are explained but... no spoilers!) have moved once more to a new neighborhood. Coincidentally, he discovers his new class is learning about Asian literature and philosophies.  San finds himself, even though he has spent his entire life with his very white adopted parents in the U.S., taking on the persona of a teenaged Zen master. He pretends to meditate in the morning at school, with the rising sun framing his silhouette just perfectly to impress the love interest, gets a group of kids to apply his "Zen" teachings to the basketball team (even though it's complete b... baloney), and even inadvertently gives up hamburgers because his new self is supposed to be vegetarian. Until the night of the BIG GAME, when it could all come crashing down.

I do kind of like this book... as a book. It's harmless enough, works well with middle grade readers, and teaches that all important lesson about being yourself. But you may have noticed that the plot is kind of reminiscent of cheesy teen movies and that it has that liar revealed consequence riding on the BIG GAME. And that is why I really, really hope that this book is not adapted into a movie.

The whole thing seems very made-for-TV movie as it is, as if the author was not someone who actually remembers what middle school was actually like, so he must rely on mediocre TV teen movies to remind him. As an adult reading it, there are quite a few criticisms I have, but most revolve around the TV teen movie thing. The MC is of course the most popular and noticed guy in school (a pet peeve of mine in children's, MG, and YA literature), the love interest is totally into him from the go, the jock is an intimidating meathead and also LI's stepbrother, etc. for every cliché you think might be out there. But, I acknowledge that I am in my 30's.  The audience for this book is squarely in middle school grades, and middle schoolers have not seen all of these tropes a million times and often done worse than this. The book is not a bad place to start, but as a movie, it would end up falling into thoughtless teen movie fodder which has been done again and again and tends to end up rerunning on Nickelodeon or something. It runs the very high risk of being just another schlock among schlocks. So (as if movies makers can hear/read my plea) please, please, don't make this a movie.