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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers

MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE by James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts

Middle School:  The Worst Years of My Life is about Rafe Khatchadorian in his first year at Hills Village Middle School. (I assume, from the title, that at least two more books are planned for what will be a series.)  It’s an entertaining read for middle-schoolers.  Rafe’s voice is genuine in that he has the authentic middle schooler’s ability to alternate between profound insight into and complete obliviousness to himself and those around him.

Saddled with his mother’s live-in fiancee, whom he calls Bear, and an annoying younger sister, Rafe isn’t too excited about anything in his life.  Until he invents a game based on the Rules of Conduct manual for the Middle School:  he must break every rule in the Book before the end of the year.  He devises a scoring system based on risk, witnesses and crowd participation (laughing with him instead of at him).  This is a great premise for a middle school novel.

Rafe is an engaging character who makes you shake your head and hold on to your heart as you shadow him while he makes his way through the highs and lows of classrooms and teachers and cute girls, self-consciousness, hopelessness and determination.

Patterson has a few surprises in store for the reader: Rafe refers to a character as if he is a tangible entity when he is, in fact, a complicated kind of imaginary friend.  This is revealed to the reader in stages.  As a reader, I think I would have been irritated with the author, had he not used Rafe to reveal the truth in his own voice in a very believeable way.  There are cartoonish/doodle-like illustrations sprinkled throughout the book.  Although these drawings do have a place in the resolution of the story, it is more their existence that is important, rather than the actual drawings themselves.  In my opinion, they are unnecessary and sometimes distracting.  The narrative is strong enough without them–and I think could resonate better with the reader if the drawings were not there.

It is a small negative, however, in a book that is, like all of Patterson’s work, an easy, character driven, enjoyable read.  I recommend this to any middle school reader.  I think there are even some 4th and 5th graders–depending on the individual–who would find this entertaining.  If you are a reader who has read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney and are ready to move on to the next step in content, this is an EXCELLENT choice for you!


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