Monday, December 21, 2015

Rafe Scores! Middle School: Just My Rotten Luck by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

Finding a dollar on the ground is special. But getting into a "special needs" program with "special" classes and no guarantee of getting through middle school anytime especially soon?

What did all of this mean, exactly? Was I just plain dumb? Could I have gotten out of it if I'd paid more attention in school? If I didn't have an imaginary friend who I used to talk to all the time?

If I wasn't so weird?

Rafe is back where he started, at Hill Valley Middle School, the scene of the crime, so to speak, where he succeeded in breaking all the official 100 School Rules and managed to get himself expelled and subsequently suspended at not one, but two, private art schools. Now, after a sentence from the Hills Valley School Board to a summer at a boot camp for troublesome kids which had him hanging from rocky crags and swimming icy rivers, Rafe is permitted to enroll again at Hill Valley Middle. And he soon discovers that his sixth-grade nemesis "Miller the Killer," who subjected him to daily "swirlie" shampoos in the boy's bathroom, is still there, two-times bigger and three times meaner, and promising to beat him up anytime he can catch him alone.

And it gets worse.

Rafe is now placed in a "special needs" class, held daily in the "fish bowl," a conference room with wide windows allowing anyone in the HVMS Library to observe the SPED kids in Mr. Fanucci's class. But Rafe makes his first real (i.e., visible) friend, Flip, an otherwise genial ADHD kid who is also a jock, quarterback of the HV flag football team. And when he leaves Miller the Killer in the dust in a chase through the middle schools' halls, the winded but impresssed Miller makes Rafe an offer he can't refuse--make the team as a fleet-footed wide receiver and Miller will refrain from takedowns for the year. Flip amiably agrees to get Rafe up to speed, so to speak, on football skills, and he discovers that if Miller the Killer and his fellow linemen can clear him a space through their opponents' defense, Rafe can SCORE!

With HVMS on a winning streak, Rafe suddenly finds that status as football hero not only earns him a place at the popular jocks' lunch table, but also gets him some surprising attention from cute girls--all but his crush, Jeanne Galleto, who seems always to be on concession bar duty when he speeds to one of his big touchdowns. Still, there's hope there, and Rafe seems to have broken his bad luck streak.

But for some reason his life seems to be missing something in the excitement department. He has a private talk with his imaginary muse, Leo the Silent.

"Don't do anything," Leo says.

In case you haven't noticed, you're not getting into trouble. You're not breaking any rules--or even trying.  You're just playing football, drawing your comics, hanging out, and going to school. That's called normal
, dude. Relax."

But then Rafe comes up with a way to follow his mentor Mrs. Donatello's advice to use his art talents to "make a difference." He creates a secret identity, S.A.M. (Sam the Art Man) and starts early morning postings around the school of parodies of art classics which satirize the school bullies. Rafe's clever cartooning skills soon become a local media sensation. Rafe feels like he's doing clandestine community service, but when his cover is blown, he discovers he's been breaking an obscure privacy law, and, just his luck, he's in back in Principal Striker's office hot seat again, in James Patterson's and Chris Tebbetts' latest in their best-selling series, Middle School series, Middle School: Just My Rotten Luck(Little, Brown and Company, 2015). Patterson and Tebbetts' formula for drop-dead-funny middle school stories is still scoring with reviewers and readers, and with an older-and-wiser, semi-successful Rafe, this one is truly up to speed with their other best-selling titles in the laughs department.

Read reviews of the whole series here.

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