Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
Rafe has lots of changes in his life right now. First of all, he's now in sixth grade and starting middle school. Next, his mother has recently become engaged to a man Rafe doesn't like. To top it off, his stepdad-to-be is unemployed, lounging around the house all day, leaving Rafe's mom to work double shifts at a diner in order to make ends meet. With his home life all crazy, we shouldn't be surprised when Rafe decides to get more attention at school. Unfortunately, Rafe decides the way to get this attention is by breaking ALL of the school rules this year. In his game, (which he calls Project R.A.F.E.) Rafe gets points for breaking the rules and extra points for the way he breaks them.
One of my students brought me his personal copy of this book in order for me to read. He told me it was one of his favorites, and couldn't wait to hear what I thought. Well, I liked it much more than I thought I would. I couldn't help making comparisons to Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. (How could you not with the combination of the comics and story set in middle school?) What made this book unique was Rafe's backstory, most of which we don't learn until close to the end. I hated it when I realized that Rafe really didn't have any friends at school, and I hated it that it took me so long to figure that out. I did like the way some sensitive topics were handled. Without giving spoilers, I'll just say there was no high-handed or preachiness way of dealing with these issues. We didn't learn a lesson or suddenly have a grand revelation by any of the characters here. It's something that could be discussed for those identifying, but others would probably just read without realizing the significance.
I can see the attraction of this book for middle school students, especially reluctant readers. The format will be appealing with all the illustrations, but it's not too juvenile for sixth, seventh, or eighth graders to fell uncomfortable about carrying around. It'll be perfect for those students looking for Wimpy Kid or Big Nate read-alikes. While I don't think this story is "the best ever," I do believe it's one of those books that will find many huge fans in middle school. Especially reluctant readers. And boys. B- rating.