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Book Review

Middle School, the Worst Years of M Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, with illustrations by Laura Park, has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "Middle School" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Rafe Khatchadorian lives with his younger sister, Georgia, his mom and Mom's verbally abusive, deadbeat boyfriend, Carl. The kids call him Bear because he's as mean as one. Rafe dreads the new school year as a sixth-grader. His only real friend, Leo, urges him to make his mark at Hills Village Middle School by breaking every rule in the book, literally.

Rafe and Leo create Project RAFE (which stands for Rules Aren't For Everyone). Project RAFE becomes an ongoing game when Leo challenges Rafe to earn a certain number of points each day. Rafe gets points for each school rule he breaks and earns bonus points based on who witnesses the event and the level of punishment he receives. He does include a No-Hurt rule, vowing he will not allow anyone else to be harmed by his pranks. He keeps a journal of his antics, complete with his scorecard. Leo draws the sketches for the journal and encourages Rafe to continue.

Rafe is pleased when he starts to get attention from his peers for his misdeeds. Even his beautiful classmate Jeanne Galletta has noticed him. He doesn't really mind the punishments, such as detention, because they are worth extra points. He does hate being stuck in detention with Mrs. Donatello, who tries to get him to talk about the reasons for his behavior. Rafe continues in his behavior — from pulling the fire alarm to streaking through the halls in his underwear to stealing Bear's energy drinks and selling them to classmates.

Mom gets worried as she sees Rafe's grades plummeting and hears he's been talking to Leo. Bear calls Rafe a freak and threatens punishment. A bully known as Miller the Killer steals Rafe's journal and blackmails him, forcing Rafe to buy back the book a page at a time. Rafe also discovers Jeanne's concern for him has more to do with pity than love. While trying to help Rafe, Jeanne gets detention. This means Rafe has broken his own No-Hurt rule, and he feels terrible. Leo urges Rafe to paint a derogatory mural on the school building. When he does, the police catch him.

Rafe finally realizes the seriousness of his actions when he's suspended. His grades are so poor, he may have to repeat sixth grade. Bear and Mom fight, and Bear accidentally pushes Mom down the front stairs. The kids call 911, and police take the penitent Bear away. At the bottom of the steps where she's fallen, Mom finds a packet full of photocopies. They are the pages of Rafe's journal.

Mom and Rafe meet with school staff to determine a course of action for Rafe. During this meeting, readers learn Leo is an imaginary friend, fashioned after Rafe's twin brother who died at age 3. Mrs. Donatello saves Rafe from repeating a grade by noting his artistic talent and suggesting he be transferred to a school with an emphasis on art. She will tutor him in the meantime to help him get caught up. Despite his struggles, Rafe feels hopeful with the prospect of attending art school and having Bear out of his life.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

None

Authority Roles

Rafe's mother demonstrates concern for her kids, especially Rafe when his grades begin to slide. She works double shifts to support her kids and out-of-work, live-in boyfriend, Carl. Carl lies around on the couch most of the day and frequently makes mean, derogatory statements about the kids. In the end, she kicks Carl out. Teachers and administrators, particularly English teacher Mrs. Donatello, try to understand Rafe's struggles and provide second chances to help him succeed.

Profanity/Violence

The words heck and butt each appear once.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Mom has a live-in boyfriend.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Rafe tells his mom a number of lies and partial truths, often to keep her from worrying.

Bathroom humor: Leo says if Rafe fails at the game, the rest of the year will be about as much fun as a case of never-ending diarrhea. Rafe rewrites a sonnet to include dog poop and talks about Bear farting.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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