Study Guide

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Choices

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I've seen enough movies that I know when you first get to prison, you basically have two choices: (1) pound the living daylights out of someone so that everyone else will think you're insane and stay out of your way, or (2) keep your head down, try to blend in, and don't get on anyone's bad side. You've already seen what I look like, so you can probably guess which one I chose. (2.2)

Rafe sees his new middle school as a prison, which he has no choice but attend. Of course he does have one choice—how to act when he's there. He can either try to prove he's a tough guy, or slink along and hope no one bothers him. Too bad wimping out doesn't really work for him. (Thanks, Miller.)

All I could think when I saw that picture was—I want to be that kid. He looked like he was having a WAY better day than I was.

And that's when I got my idea.

My really stupendous, really, really Big Idea. It came on like a flash flood.

This was the best idea anyone had ever had in the whole history of middle school. In the whole history of ideas! Not only was it going to help me get through the year, I thought, it might also just save my life here at Hills Village.

That was, if I had the nerve to actually try it.

When Leo draws a picture of the kid breaking all the rules, Rafe can't help but feel jealous. It's then that he realizes he's got a choice to make. He doesn't have to follow all these stupid rules. He can break them one by one. If only he's got the guts. Well, does he?

"What was that about, Rafe?" she asked.

"Nothing," I told her.

"It wasn't "nothing," she said. "First of all, let me say that I noticed you kept Mr. Shakespeare's meter and rhyme in what you wrote—"

"Thanks!" I said.

"— but your behavior was completely unacceptable. There are much better ways to use your creativity, and I think you know it."

I nodded a lot while she talked. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Throughout the book, Rafe's teachers are constantly telling him to make better choices. And he's constantly ignoring them. In Rafe's mind, breaking the rules is the best choice. If his life was miserable and lame when he followed the rules, then why should he go back to doing that? Nope. It's a law-breaker's life for Rafe.

"Rafe, are you listening to me?"

I looked up at Mr. Dwight and nodded. "You need to get your act together, young man. Keep up this kind of behavior and it's going to be more than just detention for you."

More warning signs and red flags from Mr. Dwight. But Rafe just can't see the harm in breaking more rules. Sure, he doesn't want detention, but he doesn't want to choose his boring old normal life either.

Next, I found some rocks and made a circle next to the water, like a little campfire. Then I took out my report card, the letter from Mrs. Stricker, the envelope, and a box of wooden kitchen matches from home. I'm not usually supposed to do anything with fire when Mom's not around but then again, I'm not usually supposed to incinerate my report card either. I crumpled it all up in the middle of the circle and lit it. (41.21)

Rafe's choices get worse and worse throughout the book. First he's erasing messages on the answering machine, now he's burning report cards. It's kind of sad, because he seriously hasn't thought this through. Does he honestly think Mom won't find out about his grade somehow?

Once Mrs. Stricker finished lecturing me about bad choices and wrong paths and good manners (huh?), she left me there in the Box. (47.1)

Mrs. Stricker strikes again. Rafe is getting loads of chances, but they're all rolling right off him. If he doesn't start making better choices, the axe is going to fall.

"I mean, you must have thought about this, right?" she said.

"Thought about what?"

"Your grades, Rafe. You can't get report cards like this all year long and then expect to sail right into seventh. They could make you take extra classes. They could make you go to summer school. Or—" Jeanne bit her lip like she didn't want to say the next part. "Or… they could make you do sixth grade all over again," she said, just before my head exploded into a million billion pieces.

Rafe honestly hasn't thought about this once. He really thought that he could just choose to goof off and break the rules and that he could just kiss sixth grade goodbye. Jeanne is the first person who tells him that he's going to have to live this nightmare all over again. Our heads are exploding for you, Rafe.

"I'm really sorry about this," I told her.

"It's not your fault," she said.

"But it kind of is," I said. "If I hadn't gone into that bathroom in the first place, this never would have happened."

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now," Jeanne said— but again, I wasn't so sure.

One thing you can say for Jeanne is that she lives with the consequences of her actions. She doesn't think her detention for going in the boys' bathroom is very fair—let's face it, it's not—but she's not complaining about it. She made her choice and she'll live with it. That's what Rafe's going to have to do too.

"That's not how I think about it," Mom said. "It's true, Rafe, you've made some bad choices for too long now. But I've made some bad choices too, haven't I?"

I knew she meant Bear, but I didn't say anything.

This pretty much sums up the whole book. It's tough for kids to make good choices at school when they are experiencing so much stress from bad choices at home. Mom should have kicked Bear out a long time ago, but she's finally living up to her mistakes and she's telling Rafe it's time for him to do the same. Let's all make good choices together from now on, guys.

Well, if it wasn't settled already, it is now," Mr. Dwight told us. "Rafe, you're being expelled from Hills Village Middle School for the rest of the year."

I wasn't too surprised but, still, I couldn't even look at Mom. She probably wanted to finish what Miller had started and kill me right now.

Yeah, fighting with Miller in front of Mom and Mr. Dwight on the way to his expulsion hearing probably wasn't Rafe's smartest move. But we've got to admit: Miller's a jerk and had it coming. At least Rafe went out with a bang since, hey, he was probably going to be expelled anyway. Hey, better luck making good choices next year, Rafe.

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