Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rafe on the Rocks! Save Rafe: (Middle School #5) by James Patterson

"You heard me!" Mom shouted on the other side of that door.

Having gotten himself expelled from Hills Village Middle and similarly ejected from two private art schools, Rafe Khatchadorian finds himself on the educational rocks in more ways than one. His mother has no recourse but to try to re-enroll him at Hills Village.

"You're a PUBLIC SCHOOL! You HAVE to take him!" Mom pleads, but the administrators at HVMS are as hard-nosed as their names imply. Mrs. Stricker and Mrs. Stonecase offer Rafe only one chance to re-matriculate without repeating last year's work--successfully completing The Program ("a highly effective intensive program for behaviorally challenged children") (as in boot camp). Rafe knows he can't let his long-suffering mom down yet again.

But when he arrives at what is euphemistically called Base Camp and sees the rest of the motley crew of campers, he figures he may be the only kid there who is not a crazy, a delinquent, or a major loser. Okay, he has to admit, so far, he probably is all three. His leader, Sargeant Fish, is unhappy with the sorry performance of his charges in setting up camp, and nobody eats that night. And they have to survive seven more days of this torture!


"Time to mow down another challenge," Sarge Fish said. "Move, move, move, move, moooooove!"

The next morning Rafe discovers something about himself--he's acrophobic! He freezes on the way up the climbing tower obstacle, where, by the way, the only lunch option is waiting, and barely makes it to the top, failing to win one of the twenty tokens he must have to pass the course. Even the other losers laugh at him.

After cutting trees and constructing a raft to float down the river, Rafe's team is up, well, down the creek without their paddles, which they lose while spinning dizzily out of control in the rapids. Wet and cold, the failed crew get only a chewing out from their leaders, who tell them to suck it up and head up the nearby mountain. "Move! Move! MOOOOVE!!

To make it worse, Rafe is partnered with Carmen, a tattooed tough chick who punches his arm unless he does all her work as well as his own. Rafe has to get those tokens: failure means washing out and ensuring that he will spend a minimum of four years in middle school. So he does her bidding, trying to stay out of range of her right fist as much as possible while he does her half of the chores. Still, climbing the Devil's Highway cliff, with the nineteenth token at stake, Rafe forgets not to look down and freezes in fear. And there's no help in sight except for Charmin' Carmen, gleefully grabbing for his best handholds.

"Don't be a wuss!" Carmen said. And then she pinched me.

"STOP IT!" I yelled at her.

"Make me," she said And this time her pinch felt more like a piranha taking a bite out of my side.

It was Ticking. Me. Off!

But this time Carmen has the right moves to save Rafe.

Down to the last token to go, Rafe hangs on, his only refuge his drawing notebook. But when the teams are required to collect firewood and build a fire with flint and steel in the pouring rain, Carmen points out that the only way they'll ever get their soggy kindling to burn is by using Rafe's precious notebook as tinder. Saving a few of his Leo and the Loozer pages, Rafe hands his book over to start the fire and win the twentieth token--his ticket home.

It's tough love like Rafe has never seen, as he begins to wonder why he ever screwed up his cushy previous life--a warm, dry house with a refrigerator and his mom to deal with all the problems, in James Patterson's latest in his hilarious Middle School series, Middle School: Save Rafe! (Little, Brown, 2014). After The Program, Hills Village Middle is going to be a piece of cake, Rafe figures.

Well, maybe. Patterson's other books in his best-selling picaresque hero series are Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life, Middle School: Get Me out of Here!, Middle School: My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar, and Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill. (see reviews here).

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