Sixteen-year-old Noreli "Nori" Tanaka, will do absolutely anything to escape her parents constant bickering. So when the opportunity for her to leave her small, Powell, Ohio town and spend the summer in Tokyo, Japan arises, she leaps at it instantly. No, she's not interested in learning more about her culture; and she can't even bear the thought of having to sit in a classroom during her summer vacation, but the idea of being free from her parents for over a month is too good to resist. So, packing her bags, Nori heads off to the land of sushi, and high-tech gadgets with various other Americans enrolled in the S.A.S.S. (Students Across the Seven Seas) Global Outreach Program, and finds herself hating every minute of it. Nori's slanted eyes and jet black hair leave everyone believing that she is a native, and don't even question her regarding whether or not she's from the States. Not even the gorgeous, blonde student from Germany, Erik Sussmann. Erik is everything that Nori has ever looked for in a guy - smart, fun, and totally cute. But Erik seems to think of Nori as nothing more than "his Geisha." And, as if that weren't bad enough, he is convinced that Nori is a resident of Japan, and Nori can't find the heart to tell him the truth. After all, if she admits that she's just from America, Erik's feelings for her may change, and she doesn't want that. So, enlisting the help of one of her new friends (and Japan native), Atsushi Shiota, Nori begins working her background, tricking Erik into believing that she is the Japanese native that he thought she was - taking him on trips to shopping centers, and out to raging clubs, and fancy restaurants. But, the more Nori gets to know Erik, the more she is convinced that he likes her only because of her culture, and not because of the true her. Unfortunately, now that Nori has convinced Erik that she's a Tokyo native, she can't exactly go back on her word. That is, until she visits some of her true relatives for a week-long stay in their home, and experiences the truth about her culture for the first time. A truth that helps her embrace her Japanese roots, and find the Zen that is hidden underneath her strong facade.
For the past two weeks, I have been extremely interested in Asian mythology and Asian culture altogether. So when I came across Linda Gerber's NOW AND ZEN, I knew I had to read it. From page one Nori was a likable character. Though her slightly cynical perspective regarding her stay in Japan can get a little tiring, the maturity that she begins to display throughout the story really makes up for it, and gives her a vibe of a girl blooming into a young woman. Readers may be disappointed to see how often Nori puts down her bubbly, pink-loving roommate, Amberly. However, as the story continues, they will be happy to see Nori reevaluate who her true friends are, and make peace with those she once wrote off. Gerber has done a fabulous job of bringing Japan to life. Her descriptions of various marketplaces and restaurants are superb, and give the reader the feeling that they are biking the cobblestone paths right alongside Nori and her great aunt and uncle. I believe that, perhaps, the time Nori spends getting to know her relatives is one of the most enjoyable in the tale, and will really give readers a chance to see the importance of family, and develop an interest in learning more about their own ancestry. An addicting novel that leaves you craving your own jaunt through Japan!