Study Guide

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Identity

By James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts

Identity

What are you like? Inside, what are you like?

Are you basically a pretty good, pretty decent person? Says who? Says you? Says your 'rents? Says your sibs?

Okay, in the spirit of a possible friendship between us—and this is a huge big deal for me—here's another true confession.

This is what I actually looked like when I got to school that first morning of sixth grade.

We still friends, or are you out of here? (1.12-16)

Rafe has trust issues and not many friends, but he wants to trust us—the reader—with the details of his life. Should he? Are we the kind of people he can trust with his secrets? We hope so.

"Listen," Leo told me, "you're never going to be one of those people"— he pointed at all the student council candidates and jocks and cheerleaders sitting on chairs that had been set up on the gym floor. "But this," he said, thumping the rule book with his pen, "this is something you can do." (6.14)

Yup, the popular ship has kind of sailed for Rafe. Leo is right. He's not going to be the cool kid jumping up and down at the pep rally. Maybe it's time to make a name for himself some other way. Hello, Operation R.A.F.E.

I couldn't believe this was all because of me! I kind of felt guilty about it, but it was kind of… amazing. To be honest, only half of that sentence is true. It was more like I knew I should feel bad, but I didn't. (7.6)

For the first time in a really long time, Rafe is feeling good about himself. Something he's done has made him feel good. Excited even. He's liking this new rule-breaking guy.

Can I trust you with the rest? I still want to know—are you a good person?

Maybe that's not fair of me to ask, since I haven't even figured out whether I'm a good person or not. I guess you can be the judge.
(25.10-11)

This is a pretty good question. So, Rafe is still wondering if we—the readers—are good people, but now he's stopping to ask who he is. Is he a good kid? He is doing this whole rule-breaking project after all. Maybe he's not so great?

And then she started crying all over again.

On her birthday.

Because of me.

I've never felt like a bigger piece of scum than I did right then. Just one big slice of loser meat on toast. So much for being a good person.
(32.16-20)

Yeah, this is a real low point for Rafe. Breaking the rules does make him feel like he's king of the world, but seeing Mom cry because of it sure doesn't. Maybe it's time to change things up? Try to be normal for a little bit to smooth things over.

"You're going to regret this," Leo told me. "Besides, Jules doesn't want you to be normal. She just wants you to be yourself. Doesn't she say that all the time?"

"Yeah, well, myself made his mother cry tonight," I said. "I'm just going to lie low for a while, that's all. Just until things get a little better around here."
(33.2-3)

We definitely get Rafe here. He feels bad about making his mom cry and he wants to back off all the lawlessness at school for a while. Leo doesn't get it though. Mom doesn't want him to just be a normal kid. She wants him to be happy. And if breaking the rules makes him happy…

"You were amazing," she said afterward. "Thanks again, Rafe."

I liked that she thought I was amazing. It kind of made me feel amazing. Not only was Jeanne Galletta smiling at me like crazy, but I'd just spent the afternoon doing the kind of stuff that good people (not just normal people, but good people) do.

Maybe that's where I got my nerve to say what I said next. "Do you want to go get some pizza after this?" (40.16-18)

Smiling girls can make you do crazy things. Rafe is feeling pretty great right here. Sure, he's dressed in a huge falcon costume, but Jeanne Galletta thinks he's amazing. That means he might actually be amazing. He could do anything—even ask her out for pizza. It doesn't go so well…but, for a minute at least, he's flying high.

Mom was mad at me, Bear was more in my face than ever, and the two of them were arguing about me all the time. Not only that, but Miller was still alive, Jeanne was about to be my tutor, and I was officially one of the worst kids in school. (48.4)

Yeah. It's not a great time to be Rafe. This is how he sees himself, which has to really stink.

Bottom line? I'd broken my own No-Hurt Rule, big-time, and I didn't need Leo to tell me what that meant: I'd just lost my third and final life in Operation R.A.F.E. The game was over. As far as the mission was concerned, I was now officially dead. (62.3)

After Rafe lands Jeanne in detention, he realizes that he's hurt another person while on his big rule-breaking mission. That's it. Operation R.A.F.E. is over. He's toast. He's officially the worst person on the planet now.

"I'll bet you wish you could just have a normal kid sometimes," I said, wiping my nose on the paper towel she gave me […]

"I think normal's a little boring, don't you?" [Mom said…]

"That's what Leo says," I whispered back, and Mom smiled a kind of happy-sad smile.

"Where do you think he got it?" she said.
(70.15, 20, 22-23)

So, Leo was right. Mom doesn't want Rafe to be normal—she just wants him to be happy. Happy without getting in tons of trouble and expelled from school. You know, a happy medium. Unique, yet law-abiding.

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