Friday, August 31, 2012

Work In Progress: Middle School--Get Me Out of Here! by James Patterson


The next morning Mom made really good French toast for breakfast. With bananas and maple syrup. and extra cinnamon on mine.

"Rafe, when you're done, I want you to put on the shirt I left out for you," Mom said. "And clean pants, please."

That stopped me with a mouthful of everything. Nothing good ever happens in clothes your mom picks out for you.

As far as Rafe Khatchadorian is concerned life has already thrown him a sinker. Just as he thought he was at least on first base with a scholarship seventh grade year at Airbrook Art Academy, a grease-fire-cum-conflagration at Swifty's Diner puts the kabosh on mom's waitress job, and the whole family is forced to move in with Grandma Dotty, who is (a bit dotty, that is) in the city, facing seventh grade in an inner-city middle school.

But Rafe's former teacher Mrs. Donatello (nee Dragon Lady) comes through again and wangles him a slot at Cathedral School of the Arts. Tuition is free, and so, thinks Rafe, is he--free of those state-of-the-art middle school bullies back home.

But Rafe reckons without regard to real life. Mean kids, he discovers, are part of the package even in art school, and when his first project, a self-portrait, is up for a crit, (critique) by the whole class, Rafe is subject to a brutal dinking, led by the resident well-heeled popular kid Zeke McDonald with his henchman Kenny Patel, sending Rafe into a self-esteem tailspin and permanent lunch periods in a stall in the boys' bathroom.

"To be honest, Mr. Beekman," says Kenny, "I don't think Rafe's portrait tells us very much, except what he looks like." Kenny turned around and looked back at me like there was a pile of doggy droppings on the chair. "Well... maybe not even that," he said, and a bunch of people laughed.

But in his new power lunch place, Rafe is discovered by another of Zeke's victims, Matty the Freak, and the two decide to bond in a bit of sweet revenge, bombing Zeke and Kenny with water-filled rubber gloves from the roof as the two meanies eat lunch on the outside steps. A friend and fellow conspirator is good, but soon the impulsive Rafe is drawn into a series of hilarious but art-career-threatening misadventures with Matty. Advised by his teacher that good art grows out of the artist's life, Rafe comes up with another grand Plan, his OPERATION GET A LIFE! Some of his self-imposed tasks are innocuous, such as walking backward around the block; some of them, dumpster-diving with Matty, result in cool found objects for his Scrap Sculpture project; one, a surveillance project to discover more about his missing father from the mysterious Hairy the barber, uncovers a family link, but as Matty the Freak continues to up the ante on the Operation, things get more than a little hairy for our hero. In-school suspension follows the kidnap-Zeke-and Kenny's-Scrap-Project Caper, and then Zeke exacts total cyber revenge when time for the crit for their digital arts project rolls around.

"Okay, Rafe, let's see what you have for us," Mr. Crawley said. "What's the name of your project?"

"Kid in Wall," I said. (What can I say. Titles just aren't my thing.)

Mr. Crawley punched a couple of keys. But instead of Kid in A Wall...

The whole computer lab went totally quiet. Nobody laughed. I don't even think anybody breathed.

After that, I couldn't tell you, because I'd already walked out of the room.

Totally humiliated by the revelation of his anxiety about his missing father in a swiped drawing captioned "I don't think he's coming back," Rafe takes flight, heading for his former hometown, Hills Valley, on a smelly bus, with vague plans to begin a hermit's life in the family's rented storage locker, a total loser at art and life.

In this non-stop sequel to their best-selling Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life, authors James Patterson's and Chris Tebbett's latest middle-school saga, Middle School: Get Me out of Here! (Little, Brown, 2012) ranges between the heights of hilarity and the pits of pathos as his hero Rafe Khachadorian careens through yet another middle school year. Illustrated by the talented and sensitive Laura Parks' comic cartoon drawings of Rafe's escapades in near graphic-novel style, this latest book is one all middle schoolers (and former middle schoolers of all ages) will find a really fine read, a humorous but fine-tuned story that tickles the funny bone and touches the heart.

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