Study Guide

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

Leo speaks to me sometimes, but that's about it. Conversation just isn't his thing. If Leo wanted to tell you your house was on fire, he'd probably draw you a picture to let you know. (3.2)

Well, that is why they call him Leo the Silent, right? As far as we can tell from this quote, Leo is the artist in this dynamic duo. That's not the whole story, but it's the story we're getting for now.

Meanwhile, Leo was drawing away like the maniac he is. Every time Stricker mentioned another rule, he scribbled something else on the page in front of him. (5.22)

This is the moment that Leo gives Rafe the idea for his big rule-breaking project—and it's basically through drawing. Of course, we know that Leo's not real, so it's Rafe drawing all this. Leo's like the muse sitting on his shoulder giving him ideas.

The other reason I like Swifty's is that they have Mom's paintings up on the wall for sale. She doesn't have much time to paint these days, since she's always working, but I think she's a really good artist—even if her stuff is kind of weird. (31.4)

So this is where Rafe gets his artistic tendencies from—Mom. Jules Khatchadorian is quite the artist, too, even if her only studio is Swifty's Diner.

[Mrs. Donatello] picked up a pad for herself, and I realized she really meant we.

"You look surprised," she said. "I love sketching. You can make anything, out of absolutely nothing. What's better than that?" (53.4-5)

The Dragon Lady loves to draw? Huh? But maybe Rafe shouldn't be surprised. After all, she has an artist's name, too.

"You've got a wonderful imagination," Donatello said, looking at my stuff. "It's all right there on the page."

For a second, it made me want to tell her about Leo. Most of what was "on the page" felt like it came from him. But Donatello probably thought I was messed up enough as it was. She didn't need to hear about me getting ideas from someone who wasn't even there.

When she was done looking, I started to tear out my pages, but she told me to keep the whole pad.

"Put it to good use, okay?" she said. "Nice job today, Rafe. Excellent, in fact."

I wasn't sure whether I should take the pad or not. It felt like some kind of test, and I didn't know what the right answer was.

"But we didn't do anything today," I said.

Donatello just shrugged. "I guess that depends on how you look at it." (53.8-14)

Looks like Rafe and Mrs. Donatello have made a connection through art. He almost tells her about Leo. But he can't quite get there, can he? This kid has some major trust issues. Drawing is one thing, but actually talking about things is just more than Rafe can handle.

But first there was one other thing I wanted to do.

This wasn't for points. Or for Leo. It was just for me, and it was going to take all my skills to pull it off, everything I'd used in the game so far— art, stealth, and bravery. The Big Three. (54.3-4)

One thing you've gotta say for Rafe—he's committed to his art. He designs his "Miller the Killer Chicken" posters, copies them, and distributes them all around school just to stick it to his bully. Way to prove the paintbrush is mightier than the wedgie, Rafe.

The whole thing started to get so big that I felt like I was inside it, even while I was still drawing. It was like Leo had said— I wasn't thinking anymore. I was just doing it, like the marker was just another part of me, and the lines and shapes and pictures were coming right out of my hand. It was an amazing feeling.

I totally lost track of time too. All of a sudden, the sun was coming up, and I was putting my finishing touches on everything. My arm was so tired that it felt like it was ready to fall off, but my brain was still buzzing like crazy. I
felt like I'd never go to sleep again in my life.

In fact, I was so into it, I never even heard the police car coming. (64.10-12)

This is Rafe's final masterpiece. His project to end the sixth grade at Hills Village Middle School. It needs to be big and, since he loves to draw, he knows it needs to be an art project. Rafe ends up doing a huge mural in marker on the wall. His teachers are less impressed by his artistry though…

"Airbrook could be a perfect environment for Rafe," Donatello said, and then she
looked right at me. "You'd have to take a longer bus ride, but I think you might like it there. The school is a combination of visual arts and academics, for nontraditional learners."

"What, like special ed?" I said.

"No," Donatello said. "It's a school for artists."

Now I started to get interested. (72.14-18)

A school for artists? That sounds like it's right up Rafe's alley. Sure, we're gonna guess they still have rules there (bet you can't go to class in your underwear), but spending all day drawing and painting sounds like it would be way more Rafe's thing.

"But you see, I've always known that Rafe is an artist at heart," Mom said. "It's in his blood. In fact, he's named for the great Rafael Sanzio of Urbino. I named all of my children after artists I admire. Rafe's sister is named for Georgia O'Keeffe." (73.11)

Art—it's a family affair. Not only does Mom love to paint, but she named her kids after artists. Rafe was destined to be an artist from birth. Airbrook here he comes.

"Maybe I could do a real mural too," I said. "With paint and everything. Something for the school, like, to say I'm sorry."

"Actually," Ms. Donatello said, "a project like that could make an excellent part of the application to Airbrook." She looked over at Dwight and Stricker. "That is, if we move ahead with this, of course."

At first, nobody else said anything. Then, finally, Mrs. Stricker kind of shrugged, and Mr. Dwight spoke up.

"It would have to be something appropriate. We'd need to see sketches before any paint goes on any walls."

"No problem," I said. (75.21-25)

Finally, a way for Rafe to use his powers for good instead of mischief. Artists sometimes struggle to find their way and Rafe is no different. In the end, he figures out the way to say he's sorry is by creating a new masterpiece as a parting gift before moving on to bigger and better things.

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