Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! (James Patterson)

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes that James Patterson would venture into middle school territory. This is, after all, one of the scariest and more perplexing places on earth. 

In his first book of this series, Rafe Khatchadorian managed so survive his 6th grade year at Hills Village Middle. Barely. My favorite piece was that the skills Rafe uses (humorously...even teasingly) to cope during a hard year are the very traits that are part of who he is meant to be in life. In that way, the Middle School books are perfect for showing just how important these years are. This IS when kids are beginning to discover the things about themselves that they hate, sure, but more importantly, they are beginning to uncover the things about themselves that they like. 

In this second installment, Rafe is in art school and loving it. Finally he is in a place where he feel comfortable just being him! Then, of course, because this is a school and there are other kids involved, the bullying and misunderstanding and rule-breaking begins...and all from quite unexpected sources. 

I was a smidge bored with this one the first half because it seemed to be following the same exact pattern as the first book. Misfit kid makes up game as a coping mechanism, which will obviously land him in trouble with his peers as well as the powers-that-be in his school.

Patterson is better than this was my analytical echo throughout every chapter. About two thirds into it, however, things got good quick. My hope for readers is that they'll not be bored by the repetition so long that they lose interest before they hit the hook. Interesting format, though it smells similar to Andrew Clements's typical fiction setup. 

The only thing still driving me nuts about this series is how in the world to pronounce the main character's name. Is it Rahhhf, Raf or Rafey (a as in bat), Raf or Rafey (a as in rake), what?

Even the Google doesn't know.

I haven't been this confused since reading the first three Harry Potters and pronouncing Hermione as (Hermeeeown). {hanging my head in shame}

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Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (James Patterson)




Rafe Khatchadorian is every 6th grade boy. He’s nervous about all the new challenges and rules that come with middle school territory. He’s excited about having a little more freedom than elementary structure afforded. Mostly, he feels overwhelmed that there is entirely too much to take in at once, and what to do with it all.

And then, of course, there's Jeanne Galletta

The thing about Rafe is that he is also anything but typical. Along with his very, um, special friend Leo, Rafe constructs an elaborate plan to survive his 6th grade year by defying what is intended to be the safety net of middle school society: the student code of conduct. His adventures might help Rafe make it through the worst year of his life…but they might keep him there as well.

Middle School: TheWorst Years of My Life as a title is a work of genius. Everybody is either headed to middle school or has been through it and very likely remembers 6th-8th grades as some of the worst years of their life. I would agree. Largely due to changing bodies and brain chemistry, middle school continues to be a very hard time for teenagers.

For those parents, teachers, and librarians curious about how well this book might meet the needs of their kids, know that it is very nicely done. There are a few twists classic of a James Patterson work, and the addition of humor-laden, skilled illustrations adds a quirky yet highly entertaining layer. The short, brief, action-packed chapters sprinkled with bits of slapstick humor will be appealing for reluctant readers (ahem: BOYS). 


Moon Over Manifest (by Clare Vanderpool)

It is 1936 and Abilene is 12 years old when her daddy sends her to Manifest (supposedly just for a little while, though a little while soon turns into a long while). She has spent her whole life drifting from one town and job to another with Gideon (her father). Abilene knows all about being the new kid. She copes with this by determining that there are "universals" everywhere a person goes. Rich snobs, tricksters, odd balls, etc. are some of the labels she hastily applies to the people of Manifest.

It is only after discovering a box of trinkets and, along with the help of a few friends she quickly learns she has misjudged, Abilene uncovers the pieces to the mystery of Manifest...and her father as well.

*Moon over Manifest is the 2011 Newbery Award winner.

The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows (Jacqueline West)

Olive and her family have just moved into the creepiest house on the block. It feels weird, looks weird, and smells weird. Still, the family (known to have a hefty dose of weird themselves) moves in and begins to settle.

The weird thing is, the walls are covered with paintings...creepy, beautiful, sinister, and classic-looking paintings. Odder still, the paintings are fixed fast to the walls. Before long, Olive discovers that there is way more to this new house of hers...and its paintings...than meets the eye.

The House of Dies Drear (Virginia Hamilton)


I don't know about you people, but I think ghost stories are lame. They're creepy, and weird, and give me the heebies jeebies. I really can't back that up with anything substantial or scientific or factual...just not a fan of the weirdness.

I thought Dies Drear was going to be different. I had such hopes that this book would be as much about the history of the Underground Railroad as some of its reviews tout. The first few chapters were promising. I learned that approximately 100,000 slaves fled to Canada for freedom between 1810 and 1850, and that 40,000 of them had passed through Ohio. However, that fact was pretty much it as far as the Underground Railroad goes. The rest of the book was suspenseful at times, but had more to do with the supposed ghosts inhabiting Dies Drear's house (the secret chambers of which he used to hide runaways) than anything else.

Here's my other beef with this book: [whispering] I don't really like Virgnia Hamilton's style. [cue "shocking" music]
I want to. I like her. I like her purpose. She must have been something special because she won numerous awards, including a Coretta Scott King, a Newbery, and an ALA Lifetime Achievement Award. She was one of the best known and most distinguished children's book authors in American history. But I just don't like her style. The dialogue is dry and choppy. The characters are emotional wastelands. The plot, even when multiple stories intertwine, are shallow and lack complexity.

The thing is, I'm supposed to like her style. She's a very important author in our history! What am I missing?