07 October 2011

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life
Little Brown and Company

Being a middle school librarian, I read quite a bit of middle school literature (duh).  For the most part, I enjoy it – not necessarily because the literature “speaks” to me (instert snooty book snob voice), but because when I read it I think of the students I serve who would enjoy, learn from or benefit from reading any given book*.  But I have to admit that I really don’t like reading middle-school-survival books.  As in, I kinda hate it.  Partly because the angst that most middle school students experience didn’t hit me until high school (late bloomer, what can I say), and partly because, to be honest, I’m still getting used to the wee people.  Middle school is a crazy crazy parallel universe where up is down, cool is not and nothing makes sense. Ever.

However I have loved a few middle school books – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorites (Mr. Alexie, feel free to send me the free, autographed copy of your book for that plug).  Since James Patterson is one of the most prolific crossover** authors out there, I figured I should give his book Middle School: the Worst Years of my Life a shot.
And it took me a month and a half to read it.  But I am so glad I did.  I wanted to give up on it multiple times, but as many of you know, once I start a book, it’s nearly impossible for me to not finish it.  I think I expected it to be more like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Absolutely True Diary, and it’s not.  Regardless, I had to start this book three times before I finally got far enough into it for it to be worthwhile.
And it was.
Rafe Khatchadorian is a 6th grader going through a pretty rough time.  He’s not popular – in fact he only has one friend, Leo the Silent***.  In the beginning, Rafe’s story seems silly and pointless and, well, meh.  He comes across as a kid who just wants to go from a zero to popular for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways.  The book starts out and Rafe hates school so he and Leo create a game – Operation R.A. F.E – that requires Rafe to break every school rule within the school year.  See?  Meh and a little silly. As the book goes along, it’s difficult to see any rhyme or reason to why Rafe keeps doing the things he’s doing – it seems so pointless and juvenile.  And it takes Patterson almost half of the book to show the reader that there is a lot more to the story that Rafe lets on.
In the end, it’s Patterson’s style that made me love the book.  As someone who works with middle school students, I can honestly say that the stuff they do makes no sense whatsoever most of the time.  Having spent the better part of my professional life surrounded by confused, horndog teenagers, I know that ninety percent of the time, their behavior is just as mysterious to them as it is to us. Patterson takes that and shows that though the kids don’t even understand why they do the things they do there’s always a reason, and that reason might not be simple, fixable or pretty.

I would recommend this book to anyone who works (or lives) with middle school students, and any middle school student.  If you’ve ever come across a kid who just doesn’t make sense, Rafe and his adventures (however misguided) and his life story make the confusing world of middle school a bit more clear.  And I beg you, even if you don’t like the beginning of the book, try to stick with it.  Rafe annoyed me to no end for the first, third/half of the book, but in the end, he makes more sense.

*if you haven’t ever tried read a book from someone else’s perspective, I highly recommend it – it gives reading a whole new twist
**Crossover meaning he/she switches between writing books for adults and YA (young adults)
***Without giving anything away, I’ll say that there are many plot twists that include Leo – the first annoyed me and the second about made me cry.

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