Now and Zen by Linda Gerber

  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Pub. Date: September 2006
  • 224pp

Nori Tanaka wants to escape from her home life and join S.A.S.S. (Students across the seven seas) in Tokyo, Japan for the summer.  Studying abroad is not exactly what she expected though.  First she runs into Amberly, the most bubbly girl who Nori has ever seen.  They end up sitting next to one another and Nori just stays quiet as Amberly chats non-stop about everything.  When they reach their destination, it is just Nori’s luck that Amberly ends up being her roommate.  On the first day of classes, everyone is given a partner except the native students who are supposed to help people along, but when the list is done, Nori ends up with no partner.  She is devestated because she was hoping that her partner would be the good-looking German boy, Erik.  Everyone seems to think that she is native Japanese because of the way that she looks and her last name.  However, she is an American and has no idea anything about Japan.  She ends up getting separated from her group at the train station, one of the most packed places in the world, and misses her train.  She even loses her backpack on the train that she was supposed to get on.  Lucky for her, a native Japanese student noticed and grabbed her backpack, getting off at the next stop to go back for her.  Atsushi finds her against a pillar in the train station and ends up being her guide through the rest of the story.  Classes begin and Nori tries to find a way to impress Erik.  When she finds out that Erik is interested in her, as a native Japanese girl, he asks her to show him around.  Since Nori does not know Japan, she enlists Atsushi’s help.  He reluctantly agrees.  This continues with Nori’s lie building and building.  She does not realize how many people she may end up hurting, and throughout the whole time she is really acting out of character and hurting herself.  When they go to their home stay visit and Nori is off to meet her aunt and uncle for the first time, she begins to realize the faults that she has and what she must do to clear the air back home and in Tokyo.

Nori is not a terribly likable character, so I went back and forth on the novel as a whole.  It is hard to not like the main character of the story you are reading and want to continue it.  However, the cultural information was very interesting.  If you have never been to Japan, you will learn some new things.  I think my favorite part of the book was when they were describing the field trips that the students went on.  Plus, I got to know a few Japanese words, even if I don’t pronounce them correctly.  I did not like Erik.  Throughout the whole story, he portrays a smooth talking bully.  What happens to him at the end is justified, but not nearly as satisfying as I would have hoped.  In some cases, I think the villain gets off to easily, and this happens to be one of those times.  This is definitely a book that I would encourage my students to read because I think that they would be able to notice the changes in Nori and identify with the loss of self when you are trying to impress someone who you like.

4/5 stars

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