Middle School: Get Me Out of Here!
Little, Brown Young Readers, 2012
Suggested Ages: 8-12
If anybody could use a fresh start, it’s Rafe Khatchadorian, a seventh-grader with more than just the usual complement of adolescent problems on his plate. Rafe gets a chance to leave behind his troubled sixth grade year (chronicled in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life) when the diner where his mom works burns down. The Khatchadorians – mom, Rafe, and pesky little sister, Georgia, leave Hills Village for the city, moving into Grandma’s already crowded apartment. It’s not perfect, but at least his art school dreams are still intact: his former teacher, Mrs. Donatello, has arranged an interview at the Cathedral School, a public magnet for the artistically inclined like Rafe, who is an excellent doodler and cartoonist.When Rafe is accepted, he vows to put his rule-breaking ways behind him, but the year gets off to a rough start when two classmates make fun of his first assignment and another boy, Matt the Freak, encourages Rafe to seek revenge. (Water-filled rubber gloves are involved.) Rafe already has one “friend,” Leonardo, who occasionally acts like a bad angel, egging him on when a step back would be wiser. But Rafe is not used to boys befriending him, and he fails to notice that in the many sticky situations Matt leads him, it’s always Rafe who comes away looking bad. Matt plays Rafe easily because Rafe is accustomed to thinking when things go bad, it’s his fault: “It’s like all the trouble in the world is made of metal, and I’m just one big walking magnet.”Fortunately, Rafe has one strong, functioning parent, and the lovely part of both books is the way in which he tries mightily to live up to her expectations. It’s impossible not to root for a boy who silently reminds himself to be good because “the last thing Mom needed right now was to start worrying about me all over again.” And Leonardo has good ideas, too, such as his scheme for Rafe to “get a life,” so he’ll be exposed to experiences he can depict in his artwork. It’s this plan – try something new every day – that sends Rafe on a mission to confront the biggest mystery of his life: what happened to his dad?As in the first book, Patterson and Tebbetts unfurl Rafe’s story in reader-friendly short chapters, written in Rafe’s first person voice. The ample illustrations by Laura Park include many great double-page spreads with plenty of details to pore over. You don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this second helping – Rafe does a good job of catching the newcomer up on his history – but you’d be denying yourself a delightful and poignant read.Reviewed by SCTHEMES: ART. FAMILY LIFE. FRIENDSHIP. HUMOR. MIDDLE SCHOOL.