Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Book Review

Lori Soard
The Worst Years of My Life book cover

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is the first book in the Middle School series by author James Patterson. According to CNN, this book is both a New York Times bestseller and an Indiebound bestseller. In 2010, Patterson was the Children's Choice Book Awards author of the year.

The Review

Note below there are spoilers, so if you do not want to know what happens in the book, you may want to come back to this section after you've read the first book in the Middle School series.

Plot Summary

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is centered around sixth grader Rafe Khatchadorian who has a somewhat difficult home life. His mother works a lot and his mother's fiance, who is nicknamed "Bear," isn't a very nice person and neither is his guard dog, Ditka. While Rafe loves his little sister, her relentless chatter annoys him.

In addition to trouble at home, Rafe feels overlooked at his new school. He is a little fish in a big pond. It is during a school assembly, as the teacher drones on about the Code of Conduct handbook that Rafe comes up with the idea to break those very rules. He starts by pulling a fire alarm.

The Game

It isn't until he discusses his new idea with his best friend, Leonardo the Silent, that he realizes he can take his idea to the next level and make a game out of it. Rafe explains that Leonardo has all the great ideas. Leonardo doesn't talk a lot, but he does draw pictures to go with Rafe's writing. Leo adds to Rafe's idea and they decide to make a game of breaking every rule in the handbook.

  • Pulling the fire alarm is worth 50,000 points
  • Talking in class is worth 10,000
  • A certain number of witnesses are required for the rule breaking to count
  • Rafe can earn bonus points by making sure his crush Jeanne Galetta sees him breaking the rules or if he talks his way out of detention

The Consequences

Rafe believes that by breaking the rules he'll avoid boredom and have the best year ever. However, Rafe quickly discovers that one problem with breaking rules is that you also start to spend a lot of time in detention and get the attention of the principal. He starts to realize that he may have to face some of the stresses of middle school and handle things in a more positive way.

Why Kids Will Love the Book

There are many reasons why middle school students will love this book.

  • The tone of the story is in a conversational, first person narrative.
  • There are tons of details that middle schoolers will recognize, such as having to read AR books for points.
  • It touches on tough issues, such as bullying, and how to deal with it.
  • The book is humorous, such as when Rafe refers to his English teacher as Dragon Lady and then says her class is his favorite subject besides detention.

Great Book for Reluctant Readers

This is a great read for readers who are hesitant to commit to a chapter book.

  • Throughout the book are fun illustrations that add to the story. Those who don't enjoy reading, will like the quick, short chapter and the illustrations throughout.
  • The language is simple, without too many difficult words, so those who struggle with reading shouldn't have trouble getting through these books.
  • Patterson hits on points that middle schoolers will relate to. For example, when Mrs. Strickler begins to read verbatim from the Hills Village Middle School Code of Conduct handbook on the first day of school, Rafe flips through to see how many pages there are (26 pages) and thinks: "We were going to be lucky to get out of this assembly by Christmas."
  • The story is kept moving by things like Rafe's imaginary friend Leo upping the game's ante by giving him only until the end of the day to earn 30,000 points.

Parents Should Note

Overall, this is a story that kids will enjoy. These situations may be a good opportunity for parents to open up dialogue about what to do if they suspect a friend is being abused, why rules shouldn't be broken and why people judge you on the language you use and the way you behave. However, there are a few things parents may want to note.

  • The book does have some mild language, with words like "crappy" and "butt face."
  • Rafe does intentionally break the rules, but he also suffers the consequences of breaking the rules.
  • There are some troubling situations that may concern some parents, such as the live-in boyfriend and his abusive attitude toward Rafe and his younger sister, Georgia.

What Others Are Saying

Like Patterson's adult books, The Middle School Series is getting great reviews:

  • IndieBound called the book "genuinely hilarious" and said it was poignant and filled with imagination. They went on to say that you won't soon forget about the main character in this story.
  • Christian Science Monitor chose to focus on the reason Patterson wrote these books, which is to encourage more kids to read. They tip their hat to him and suggest that his goal is a noble one and that if it is successful that more kids will be reading because of his humorous stories about the Khatchadorian kids.
  • Publisher's Weekly praised the book and said that illustrator Laura Park's drawings are spot on. Not only are the drawings something that adds interest to Rafe's narration, but there are times when the drawings tell the reader what is really going on as opposed to what Rafe is telling the reader is going on. It creates an interesting juxtaposition that keeps readers reading.
  • The LA Times praised the book and mentioned that Patterson does a good job of tuning into the insecurities that middle schoolers feel and calls it a "perfectly pitched" young adult novel.
  • The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) chose Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life as one of their 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. These are books that librarians believe children will pick up of their own volition and read for pleasure.

Patterson Is a Skilled Writer

Already known for his adult novels, Patterson has taken those writing skills and translated them into a book that young adults will love. The humor, the way the narrator pokes fun at himself and the world around him and the situations he faces will all speak to middle school aged children. This book gets the reader engaged and what better way to promote a love of reading than by providing books that young people love and will talk to others about.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Book Review