Study Guide

Rafael "Rafe" Khatchadorian in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

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Rafael "Rafe" Khatchadorian

You all know a few tragic heroes off the top of your head. Hamlet. Macbeth. Oedipus.

And…some twelve-year-old named Rafe? Are we playing Sesame Street's favorite game: "One of these things is not like the other"? Is Rafe lying when he describes himself as a tragic hero?

Nope. Because you don't need to be a bummed-out Danish prince (ahem, Hamlet), a power-hungry Scotsman (lookin' at you, Macbeth) or a Greek with some pretty insane daddy issues (what's up, Oedipus) to be a tragic hero.

You just need to fall from grace, aided either by a tragic flaw or just some really terrible luck.

Yup, that sounds a whole lot like Rafe Khatchadorian.

Rafe: The Kid, the Myth, the Legend

But let's back up a bit. Just who is this Rafe guy we're dealing with?

To start, he's just a mild-mannered sixth grader trying to make it in the big bad world of middle school. He doesn't have any friends. His one buddy is Leo the Silent, who—and this is the depressing part—isn't actually a real person.


Rafe's obviously not a people-person. He says he doesn't trust other folks (except maybe his mom) and he pushes away the people that try to get him to open up. Because he's not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of opening up to people.

Check it out:

Whoa. I was surprised [Jeanne] even remembered I'd said that. The whole Thanksgiving bake sale disaster seemed like ancient history by now, and we'd never talked about it at all, which was kind of awkward.

But you know what was even more awkward? Talking about it. (51.20-21)

It's like he feels so bad about himself that he can't quite understand why someone else would like him and care about him. Aww. We want to give Rafe a cookie and a hug…and a commission to paint a mural.

Heart of an Artist

But Rafe's actually got a lot of great qualities. He's not a mean kid and he doesn't kick other people down to make himself feel better (like certain bullies we could name—cough, Miller, cough). That's why he makes the No-Hurt Rule.

He can't stand the thought that someone else might get harmed during one of his moments of mayhem:

"Nobody should get hurt from me playing Operation R.A.F.E."

"Especially little kids," Leo added. (17.12-13)

Rafe is also a born artist, though he has a hard time embracing this part of himself. You'll notice he mostly gives credit to Leo for the drawings in his book. When he and Mrs. Donatello are sketching, he almost tells her about Leo, because that's where he feels like his drawings come from.

It's not until the end of his story that he finally realizes that he actually has the imagination of a Donatello (no, not the Ninja Turtle) and would really like to go to a place like Airbrook Arts Community School. Once he embraces his inner artist, he can take credit for the creativity that everyone else saw in him all along.

They Are Family

To put a rotten maraschino cherry on top of a nasty, hurt-filled sundae, Rafe's family life is pretty complicated. And by "pretty complicated," we mean "messed up by a jerk of a stepdad-to-be named Bear"

When we first see him at home, it's with Bear. And Bear isn't like an actual flesh-and-fur bear: he's not interested in finding delicious salmon snacks for his family of bear cubs or foraging for honey, Winnie-The-Pooh-style. He's not interested in doing…anything. In fact, a better nickname for him would be "Potato," as in the kind of potato that flourishes on couches.

The fact that this guy is around means that Rafe has less time with his mom and more time with a dude who calls Rafe "Squirt" and hogs the remote to watch football all day.

"Watch your mouth, Squirt."

"That's another thing," I said. "Don't call me Squirt."

"Don't tell me what to do," Bear growled. "Squirt." (44.22-24)

Add the fact that Rafe's biological dad is M.I.A. and his twin brother died when he was three years old, and you've got the makings of a sad little dude. There's really no one at home that Rafe can consistently look to for support.

Sure, his mom and sister love him to pieces, but that's just not cutting it for Rafe as long as Bear is in the picture.

Breaking the Rules

Rafe feels trapped. He's going to a school he hates with people he doesn't like. He lives with a future stepfather he can't stand. And now he has to obey a bunch of stupid school rules? His life is out of control.

And what better way to take back control than to break a few rules?

For Rafe, the Hills Village Middle School Code of Conduct becomes the symbol of everything that's wrong with his life. And he's not gonna take it anymore.

Mission Accomplished

In a twist that will surprise exactly 0.00% of readers, Rafe's plan has some very bad consequences. He gets detention. He gets grounded. He gets expelled.

But—and here's the shocker—it does bring about some good results.

For one, Rafe comes into his own as an artist. By the end, he seems to understand that there are better outlets for his creative thinking and imagination than pulling pranks all the time. (Or at least that art and pranks can go hand-in-hand—just look at the famous artist Banksy.)

His bad behavior also forces his mom to a crossroads. She has to come to terms with the fact that Bear is actually an awful person…and she kicks him out on his butt.

So, kudos to Rafe Khatchadorian. He may be a tragic hero, but his story has a pretty happy ending.

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