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). 


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 Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)


Born "with water on the brain," 14 year old Junior is seizure-prone and poor as dirt. Here he tells the story of life on his Spokane Indian reservation, in all its shocking and gut-wrenching glory. Junior's physical issues and desire for a different life cause him to be something of a target on the "rez," and before long he finds himself enrolled at Reardan, the closest mostly white high school. Violence, cruelty, alcoholism, racism, and tragedy are normal daily occurrences for Junior; though his voice is laden with wit and charm, still the book is peppered with negative stereotypes about the Native American culture.

The oppressive poverty is the worst, and the root of all the other issues. Junior's take:

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."  (pg. 13)

Though it is overrun with stereotypes, the difference for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that as the narrator, Junior is a funny yet deeply self-reflective Native American. He describes experiences with his culture that cannot be disputed by those of another race. Another consideration is that through use of Junior’s very strong, specific voice, these stereotypes are brought to light to reveal their complex combination of truth and utter ridiculousness.

Because it is so heavy laden with negative stereotypes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may at first seem a risk to young readers in promoting the very untrue notion that Native Americans are inferior to other ethnicities. Because of the way Alexie tells Junior’s story, the novel does more good than harm in the realm of typecasts. Awareness of the stereotypes and disputing the untruths promotes the integrity of the Native American culture. Young readers without experience in or with the Native American culture will be surprised at what Junior has to say about his life, but one of the most essential qualities of great literature is that it brings awareness to and appreciation of cultures different from our own. 

School of Fear (Gitty Daneshvari)

School of Fear is one of the (many, many, MANY) books I have purchased at my school book fair over recent years. Published in 2009, this story is about 4 students who have terribly ferocious fears of...something. Bugs, dying, tight quarters, and deep water are among the paralyzing fears of these 12 year old kids. In an act of desperation and desire to be free of their children's paranoias, their parents send them away to an exclusive school designed entirely for curing phobic children of their fears.

I liked the vocabulary exposure readers get in this book. I like the adventure, even if it does get a bit wonky at times. I love the sarcasm. I like the characters a lot, and suspect that many children today can identify with this exaggerated form of unique fears. It has favorable reviews from reputable school library book reviewers, but take a look at the cover. What do you notice?


I am concerned about the lack of cultural diversity in the book. Granted, ethnic diversity just for the sake of diversity is just as shallow as no diversity at all...but that is a post for another day.

It's a great piece to be included in a school library, and would be especially satisfying to Lemony Snicket fans.