Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Friday's Fare: Review of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Middle school! The time in any kid's life when he or she really, truly, begins to "grow up". But growing up means dealing with problems not usually found in elementary school: changes in one's body; changes in one's personality, usually steming from said changes in one's body; homework which increases both in terms of quantity and difficulty; attraction to girls, along with things like dances, sports, and cheerleading; grades, which are definitely more important than they were during the past 5 years in school; and of course, the seemingly ever present bully.

All of these things can be really tough on any kid, but when Rafe Khatchadorian enters 6th grade, "tough" becomes "impossible to survive."  He hates his school, which he insists was at one time a medieval prison that they forgot to tear down and turned into a middle school instead.

 Today that prison is home to the Diabolical Dragon Lady ( his English teacher); the Lizard King ( the principal); the Three Witches Millie, Billie, and Tillie ( the cafeteria ladies); Sargeant Stricker ( the vice-principal); The Ogre ( the gym teacher ); and..oh yes, we mustn't forget Miller the Killer, the ( 9 foot ) school bully.

Unfortunately for Rafe, home is no refuge, either. Here he deals with his little sister Georgia who is "super-obnoxious" and "super bratty;" his mother whom he loves dearly but is never around because she is always working . She has to work double shifts to support not only him, his sister, and herself, but also Rafe's soon-to-be-stepfather who does nothing but lay around all day, drinking beer and watching TV.  Carl, better known as Bear, is in his own way as big a bully as Miller the Killer.

The one saving grace for Rafe is his very best friend, Leonardo the Silent. "The Silent" because he hardly ever talks, and when he does it's just to Rafe.  Leo comes in very handy, however, because he gives Rafe an idea of how to "beat the system" of 26 pages of RULES for middle school behavior. It is a stupendous idea!

Rafe  invents a game based on Leo's idea. That game is going to give him points for breaking every rule of conduct on each of those 26 pages. All Rafe has to do is figure out the best way for each rule to be broken.  He also get "bonus" points for the amount of creativity used in breaking a rule, points for causing laughter from the other kids when he breaks a rule ( because he intends to break each one in a most obvious way, so that everyone...including the Dragon Lady and the Lizard King...knows about it), and of course, MORE bonus points if he is observed by the most popular girl in school, Jeanne Galletta.

But things don't turn out exactly as Rafe has planned.  He is spending more and more time in detention, his grades are D's and F's...even some unasked-for tutoring by Jeanne can't bring them up, and he makes his mom cry.  Events take a turn for the worse when he loses his book with his rule-breaking game in it to Miller the Killer, and the only way he can get it back is to buy it, one page at a time.  So now he is in even bigger trouble, something he didn't think possible, and this time, Leo can't get him out of it.

His troubles just keep mounting up until finally the police are called in, and Rafe has no choice but to tell all.  Surprisingly enough, help comes from a most unexpected source, and Rafe realizes that life can not only get better, but be far more exciting by going in a totally different he loved, but never thought would amount to anything.

This is the hilarious and amazing adventure of one boy's misguided attempts to survive middle school. James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts teamed up to make a fascinating graphic novel, all the more exciting because of Laura Park's hysterical illustrations which detail every thought and move in Rafe's life.

The game that Rafe invented to break all the rules and the ways in which he broke them are delightfully imaginative, even though they sometimes border on dangerous, and inevitably, lead him to pay the consequences of his actions. Nevertheless, you will identify with him, probably remember with great clarity some of your most poignant moments in middle school, and you will undoubtedly laugh out loud with each page you turn.

The most tender and emotional moment in the book is the revealing of Rafe's mysterious friend, Leo. After laughing all through the book unil your sides hurt, this revelation will bring tears to your eyes.

Middle School: the Worst Years of My Life is one of the best kids' book I've ever read, one I will most probably read again, and one which I assure you should be on your list of 'next to buy.' You won't regret it...oh yes, and if you have a boy ( or girl) in or getting ready to go into middle school, be sure you let them read it, too!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. I haven't heard about this one, so thanks for the great review. I'll definitely check it out.

  2. I have to admit, I've been avoiding this book because I'm not a fan of Patterson's adult novels. But your rave review has me very curious!

  3. I love James Patterson's mysteries! He's one of my favorite authors so I was eager to read this book. I think it's great. However, one of the reviews I read said it was an "insult to middle grade kids today who would never think of doing such terrible things in school."

    Well! No, Rafe's escapades were not terrible, but I'll admit most kids today wouldn't think of them...because most wouldn't have the imagination to think them up! Rafe has what my mother would have called "spunk", something I think kids are lacking today. They are either too involved with bullying or coping with being bullied, or too involved with sticking their noses into the computer/video/Tv games to actually have much imagination.

    Another review said that kids shouldn't be allowed to read this book, because it would give them too many ideas of what to do in school other than studying! Being a teacher of many many years, I think a few ideas of their own making...i.e. imagination...might be a good thing! Since "studying" isn't always, or even too often, a top priority, having a little fun outside of electronics might a good stimulus for everyone concerned...including teachers.

    As you can tell, a little mischieviousness on the part of kids has never bothered me LOL

  4. Wow, that sounds similar to how I remember middle school. Ugh! Those days were the worst. However, I'm far enough removed from them now and very tempted by this review, Mikki. My "to be read" list is getting HUGE!