Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life

 
(i)

 

Irreverent look at school life explores complex feelings.

What parents need to know

Educational value

There is some discussion of Shakespeare's meter and rhyme.

Positive messages

Like many kids, Rafe has a hard life, but he never gives up hope that he will be valued. He also shows compassion toward others, even his annoying little sister.

Positive role models

Even though Rafe is a rule-breaker and gets in trouble, he does show kindness and compassion.

Violence

There are two violent, angry characters in this book: Miller the Killer, the consummate school bully; and Bear, the aptly named boyfriend of Rafe’s mom. Miller threatens as well as pushes and pummels Rafe throughout the story. Bear is creepier, always criticizing Rafe and his little sister, Georgia, from the comfort of the living room couch, and at one point pushes Rafe’s mom down the front stairs.

Sex

Rafe has a crush on the most popular girl in school, who turns out to be a pretty nice girl who treats Rafe fairly.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism

An energy drink called Zoom -- "tastes like chocolate and Coke mixed together, and it has about eight cups of caffeine in every can" -- figures in the plot. Rafe also eats a Snickers in the school library.

 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

No drugs or alcohol, but Bear drinks a lot of high-caffeine Zoom and keeps cases of it in the garage. Rafe sells Zoom out of his school locker to make money to pay off Miller.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts and illustrated by Laura Park, tells the story of Rafe, a kid who sets out to break all the school rules and is disrespectful to teachers and staff. The humorous drawings poke fun at teachers and just about everyone else at Hills Village Middle School. And Rafe suffers bullying at school and at home.

 

What's the story?

Like many middle school students, Rafe feels alone, different, and lost. He is just trying to serve his middle school sentence and move on. On his first day, his first encounter with another student is with Miller the Killer, the class bully. Rafe’s plan to try to \"keep [his] head down, try to blend in, and don’t get on anyone’s bad side\" doesn’t work, and Miller makes him his target. During the school assembly, Rafe gets the idea to systematically break every rule in the Hills Village Middle School Code of Conduct. He and his best and only friend, Leo the Silent, create a reality-show game with points and exciting twists. Rafe’s unusual friendship with Leo will surprise most readers.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

This irreverent story pokes fun at everything about middle school while creating a fresh, indelible character in Rafe.  The wonderful cartoon illustrations by Laura Park (ostensibly done by Rafe's friend Leo) will attract Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans, but these detailed drawings also reveal much about Rafe’s character and how he views the world. Teachers and parents might be offended by the harshness and irreverence with which Rafe portrays Hills Village Middle School, but kids who feel as trapped and alone as he does will relate. Rafe sees himself as a geek, but readers will see his other side -- a sweet boy trying to do what's right.

 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Rafe is trying to break every rule at his school. Rafe seems like a nice kid; what is happening in his life that causes him to be disruptive?

  • Rafe suffers at the hands of a bully. You might want to talk about how everyone plays a role in bullying.

  • Rafe is failing school and has a loser for a stepfather. Families can talk about where kids like Rafe find help and support. He talks to Leo the Silent; who else in his life can he talk to?

  • What alternatives do kids have when they don’t fit in and have no friends? How do you go about making friends at a new school?

Book details

Authors:Chris Tebbetts, James Patterson
Illustrator:Laura Park
Genre:Humor
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:June 27, 2011
Number of pages:288
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17

This review of Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 11 years old December 1, 2011
 

Amazing

this book has captured what it's really like for middle schoolers. I read it and it was great, so great infact, that i read it in one sitting.
Teen, 13 years old Written bykaiden123 January 20, 2013
 

Good book for kids 9 and up

This is a great book for ages 9 and up some kids will not understand the positive message of hope and family values.... there is some domestic violence. Itis little and not at all gerusome! other wise an easy read and extremly funny book!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much consumerism
Teen, 14 years old Written byluckyconversekid9 February 17, 2013
 

Rafe Can Practically Get Away With Anything

I have yet to find a Patterson book that I have enjoyed. I read this in one night and I do not think the main character was a good role model at all. Oh, we'll totally get away with breaking all the school rules and there will be no consequences whatsoever! Oh, and my imaginary friend who turns out to be just another twisted, strange thing to add to this story will totally lead me in the right direction because that's all he's ever done in the book so far! It seemed like all the obvious things that Rafe could have done were shot down just because they could. And of course, there's a happy alternative for being expelled just for him. I don't get it, but maybe it's just me.
What other families should know
Too much violence

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass