Monday, July 16, 2012

Middle Grade Reader: Middle School the Worst Years of My Life


It is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, hosted by Shannon Messenger.  I have seen James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts’ Middle School the Worst Years of My Life everywhere, from the Barnes and Nobles to Kroger to the library.   I had to read what it is all about…

Summary:
Rafe, a sixth grader, struggles with his peer relationships, his classes, and his home life.  His sole friend is Leo the Silent. The only thing Rafe finds fulfilling about middle school is figuring out how to break all the rules in the school handbook.  Home is anything but ideal.  His mother works all of the time to support the family while her “fiancĂ©” lies around watching TV and emptying the fridge.  Rafe, along with Leo, makes breaking all the school rules not only a goal, but a game.  His “accomplishments” temporarily make him feel successful, but his failing grades and strained relationship with his mom make him feel sad and worthless.  Rafe is desperately trying to figure out how he fits into the world.   Unfortunately, he is drawing A LOT of negative attention to himself in the process.   

Evaluation:
The Good…The journal format is VERY popular right now.  The protagonist has an amazing imagination and artistic gift. The creative drawings, interesting plot elements, and the engaging narrative voice make it a big draw for middle grade readers, especially reluctant ones.  I was drawn in right away and highly motivated to keep reading.  

The Bad…In much of the narrative, Rafe is making poor choices, like bullying a bully, breaking school rules, lying to his mother, stealing from others, and ignoring his class assignments. 

The Conflicting…There are a few things that I felt conflicted by as I read.  [SPOILER] Several pages into the novel, Rafe reveals that his best friend is not a person.  He is an imaginary friend.  This element seemed off to me.  Rafe is not six.  He is in sixth grade!  At the end of the novel though, his origin is revealed, which makes his function in the book more meaningful and understandable. Also, I was really creeped out by the fiancĂ© (referred to as “Bear”) living with the family.  He is mean to the children, treats the mother poorly, and does not even earn his keep.  Even though the children hate him (and for good reason), the mother allows him to be their primary guardian since she is working most of the time.  The situation made me feel uneasy.  Finally, as an adult reader, I could see that Rafe is acting out as a result of his home life and his lack of self-identity.  Part of the self-identity crisis is that Rafe is a non-traditional, but gifted student.  Fortunately, he has a teacher who recognizes the situation and works to help him.  While I could see that Rafe's mischief is a cry for help, I wonder if middle grade readers will pick up on it or if they will see the narrative as a glorification of defiance and irreverence.  

As a parent and an educator, I recommend  Middle School the Worst Years of My Life  with some reservation.  I realize there are children out there like Rafe or those who have experienced many of the same situations/choices.  As a result, it is relevant to reflect it as a slice of life.  On the other hand, I do have great concern about the growing atmosphere of disrespect that all forms of media are fostering in young people with little guidance or consequences.  Many young readers will enjoy the voice, style, and plot.  The book could definitely be used as a discussion platform about bullying, poor choices, consequences, family relationships, and many other relevant areas.  

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the honest review. I like James Patterson but to be honest am not sure if I'd enjoy this one. Thanks for sharing about it though.

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  2. I appreciate your thoughts on this one. I like reading books in a journal style, usually. But it's good to know about some of the other elements of the story.

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  3. Sounds like some issues to genuinely be concerned about. Very thorough and comprehensive review.

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  4. Very thoughtful review. I enjoy his books for adults- and this one sounds like it could be interesting. I didn't read the spoiler- because I might read it but I can see that there may be some things to pay attention to so I can think about recommending it to others.
    ~Jess

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