People spill a lot of ink talking about the best years of your life.
Old age: hey, who doesn't like playing shuffleboard, being retired, and getting to do basically anything you want (including eating dinner at five p.m.)?
Or early childhood? The perks include: few responsibilities, endless pillow forts, naps (!), and getting bedtime stories read to you.
But people also hold up every other age group as The Best: high school is all excitement and prom nights, your twenties are for adventure and partying, you thirties are about realizing who you are, and your later adult years are a parade of barbeques, polo shirts, and RV camping.
But you'll realize that no one—and we mean no one—waxes poetic about middle school.
Especially not James Patterson. In Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life he lays it all out there: middle school is the pits. The years between fifth and ninth grade are fun for pretty much zero percent of the population.
And if you're named Rafe Khatchadorian, they're beyond terrible.
Let's take inventory. Rafe has zero friends (imaginary ones don't count). The pretty girl he's got the hots for thinks of him as a sweet lil' clown. The class bully wants to smash him into hamburger meat. The teachers are demanding that he reach his potential. Oh—and he has a step-father-to-be that makes the stepparents represented in Cinderella and Snow White look like doting mamas.
And to top it off: there's a twenty-six—yeah, that's two-six—page rulebook that he has to follow at school.
Rafe takes a stand. He can't change out his step-dad for a newer (or friendlier) model, he can't make his crush love him, he can't trounce the bully, and he can't invent a time machine that will take him straight to his sophomore year of high school. So he challenges what he can: the rulebook.
By setting out to break every. single. rule.
To the surprise of basically nobody—including the mega-successful James Patterson—Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life was a smash hit. It was a New York Times bestseller and got turned into a movie in 2016. It also spawned a bunch of successful sequels, too.
We'll chalk up the success of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life to a whole slew of factors. The hilarious writing collaboration between James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts doesn't hurt. Neither do the intricate illustrations by Laura Park. And certainly the cast of characters—from the Voldemort-like Bear to the Dumbledore-like Mrs. Donatello—are uniquely awesome.
But we think the real reason this book caught fire like Katniss Everdeen is right there in the title. The middle school years are the worst of many people's lives…and Rafe (and Patterson) tells it like it is.
We'll let Leo and Jules speak for us:
"Normal's a little boring."
And it's true. Normal is a slice of white bread, and weird is a crispy BLT. Normal is nonfat vanilla fro-yo, and weird is a banana split. Normal is "Hot Cross Buns" played on the recorder, and weird is Beyoncé's Lemonade.
But there's a time in your life when "normal" seems like the most seductive thing in the world. It's called middle school…and that's exactly why a weirdo* like Rafe thinks of middle school as the worst years of his life.
(*In Shmoopese, "weirdo" is the highest compliment you can get.)
Because Rafe isn't just a little eccentric. He doesn't, say, wear mismatched socks. Or proclaim his love for accordion music. No: dude's a bonafide weirdo—he has an imaginary friend at the age of thirteen, daydreams vividly and constantly, writes manifestos, and doodles with the talent of Art Spiegelman or Alison Bechdel.
And when he enters middle school, he realizes he has two choices: he can keep his head down and try to be "normal" (whatever that means) or he can let his freak flag fly.
Guess which one he chooses? (Hint: this book is hilarious and entertaining instead of a snooze-fest list of extracurricular activities.)
And although the results are less than 100% pleasant—this book isn't called Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life for nothing—Rafe ends up gaining friends, respect, and a sunnier future. Sure, he has to suffer a bit. But by asserting himself as a Grade A Weirdo, he ends up…happier.
James Patterson's official website. Warning: he writes a lot of books and most of them aren't about middle school, so browse only if you're looking for stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with Rafe Khatchadorian and friends.
Even More Middle Schooling
There are a few more James Patterson books about Rafe and his middle school adventures (or misadventures), and you can check them all out here.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
And now a major motion picture!
James Patterson Moves on to Kids' Books
After getting famous (and rich) writing adult novels, why would James Patterson decide to dip his toes into the waters of young adult writing? Read more about it here.
Kids Read Middle School
As much fun as reading this book is, it's almost better to watch these kids read excerpts from it.
James Patterson on Middle School and Publishing
A quick interview with James Patterson on his "book activism," which includes giving away free copies of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.
Judging a Book By Its Cover
The original and colorful cover to the book. Yup: middle school is rough.
Rafe Khatchadorian, Artist in Training
One of Rafe's illustrations from the book.
Middle School Movie Poster
It's true. Rules aren't for everyone.
The Khatchadorian Family
Mom, Rafe, and Georgia all try to put on a happy face outside of prison…er, we mean school.