What You Need to Know:|
• Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life was deeper than I expected.
• Rafe, the humorous main character, leads a complicated life.
• This book may appear to be in the genre of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but it covers more serious issues.
• There are some situations that parents should be aware of: single mom with a verbally and (briefly physically)
abusive boyfriend, kids pulling fire alarms, school suspension, vandalism and death, to name a few.
• James Patterson is listed as author, but it is co-written by Chris Tebbetts.
• Mr. Patterson explained his author partnerships in this way: the idea for the book is his. He completely outlines it
for the co-author who writes the first draft, after which Patterson edits and rewrites all subsequent drafts.
I heard Mr. Patterson speak recently about literacy among young boys. This is a personal passion of his for his son, as well as the larger community. To paraphrase, Patterson said he and his wife feel great responsibility for their son's reading life and he believes that it is their job to find books that would appeal to him. Otherwise, how can they expect him to read? Mr. Patterson also feels that it is the responsibility of parents, teachers and librarians everywhere, to find and introduce these books to children, especially boys, so they will read and enjoy them. In Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life I believe he has a book that they can recommend!
Many parents and children will see this book on the shelf, and from the graphics they will assume it's a great book to pickup while waiting for the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid . While that is mostly true, there are some major differences between this story and Wimpy Kid. Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life deals with similar school complaints, but those complaints are nestled in with real life, major issues. Rafe Khatchadorian dreads going to middle school. On the first day, while being bullied by "Miller the Killer", at the same time that he is listening to the administrator drone on about the rules, he has an epiphany. Rafe decides he is going to break every rule in the book - literally. With the help of his imaginary friend Leo, Rafe sets out on his destructive course and charts his progress in a journal (which is this book). Along the way the resident bully, Miller, steals Rafe's journal with the details of all his inner thoughts, and exhorts Rafe into paying him to get it back. Later on, when Rafe realizes he wants to go on the straight and narrow, he really can't because he is beholden to Miller.
After breaking as many rules as he can, large and small, and getting many detentions and suspensions, things come to a head. Rafe's final act of defiance is the drawing of a mural on the school wall. This results in his expulsion from school, and a meeting with the administration and his mom, who has been in the dark pretty much until now. The ending is surprising and hopeful at the same time. It turns out, Rafe's imaginary friend Leo is actually his twin brother who died when they were three. This explains some of the challenging issues that both mother and son have been battling. Mom finally kicks out her abusive boyfriend, and Rafe, while expelled for the rest of the year, is guided towards an artistic magnet school that would better suit his needs. You feel like Rafe's artistic talent and humor will save him, and that he and his mom are on a path to healing.
I think kids who feel like Rafe will relate to this story, and kids who are more mainstream will get a great lesson in empathy. Perhaps they will have more compassion for the kids who are always getting into trouble. And I know for sure that kids, reluctant readers included, will want to get to the end of this book. Patterson and Tebbetts have definitely created a suspenseful story that will propel the reader to a satisfying ending. Rafe is a bit of a train wreck, and you can't look away, but he is a sympathetic character. Your reader will root for his success!
James Patterson, Chris Tebbetts
2011, 288 pages
Family Life, Books for Boys, Good Book Club Selection, Self-Awareness/Discovery, Behavior, Identity, Loss, Delinquency, Bullying, Abuse, Grief
• What did you think of Rafe? Why did he try to get into so much trouble?
• Why do you think Leo was always trying to get Rafe to do the naughty things?
• Were you surprised to find out Leo was imaginary? How did you feel when you found out it was his late brother?
• Did you feel betrayed by Rafe, keeping that a secret from you, the reader?
• Why do you think Rafe's mom put up with Bear in her house for so long?
• Do you think that was fair to Rafe and his sister, Georgia?
• At Rafe's school, who do you think really wanted to help him? Jeannie? Ms. Donatello? Anyone else?
• What do you think about Rafe's rule that his trouble should hurt no one else? What do you think that says about him?
• Do you know anyone like Rafe in your school? How are they alike?
• Is there anyone like "Miller the Killer" in your school? How are they alike?
• Do you think there are other reasons kids break rules, besides wanting to cause some trouble?
• Do you ever think it is ok to break rules like Rafe did? Why or why not?
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