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Our story begins with twelve-year-old Rafe Khatchadorian sitting in the back of a Hills Village police car. This is no kind of good.
But let's back up a little. It's the first day of sixth grade and Rafe isn't exactly a fan of his new middle school. He's only got one friend—Leo the Silent—who's more like an imaginary friend, actually. A bully named Miller has already decided to make his life difficult. Jeanne, the prettiest girl in school, doesn't know he exists. And his teachers insist on making all the students obey the rules.
So. many. rules.
That's when Rafe gets his really big idea. He may not be the smartest or most popular kid in school, but there's one thing he can do—break every rule in the book. He calls it Operation R.A.F.E. and he awards himself points for every rule he breaks. He starts by pulling the fire alarm on the first day of school.
Maybe sixth grade isn't going to be so bad, after all.
At home, things aren't so great: Rafe lives with his mom and little sister, Georgia, and his lazy, jerky stepdad-to-be, Bear. But at school, things are looking up because this whole rule-breaking thing is pretty fun. Gradually, Rafe breaks more and more rules and gets in more and more trouble.
Unfortunately—and not actually that surprisingly—this freaks out his mom and makes his wicked future stepdad none too pleased.
Eventually, Rafe kind of cools it with the whole Operation R.A.F.E. thing and tries to walk the straight and narrow path. But this turns out to be tougher than he thought. Miller, a.k.a. The Bully, swipes his Operation R.A.F.E. notebook and then forces him to buy it back one page at a time. Rafe also thinks Jeanne might be into him, but then she puts him in the friendzone.
Oh, and he might flunk sixth grade, too. He can't catch a break.
So, Rafe finally figures if he's going to be this miserable trying to be normal, then he might as well go ahead and just break the rules. Leo suggests that Rafe do one big project at the end of the year. Something huge. Something that involves major vandalism.
So, Rafe draws a big scene on one of the walls outside the school. He thinks it's a masterpiece. His teachers aren't so impressed.
That same night, Bear ends up hurting Rafe's mom during a fight and the kids have to call the police. (Remember the police car from the beginning of the story? That's it.) On the plus side, Rafe's mom finally kicks Bear to the curb, so there's no more nasty future stepfather lurking around the house being mean to everyone.
The bad news comes the next day though: Rafe is going to be expelled from school.
Luckily, one of his teachers, Mrs. Donatello, suggests that his mom send him to a special arts academy the next year. Seems like it took some artistic talent to make that masterpiece on the wall and to create all the drawings in his Operation R.A.F.E. notebook. Basically, Rafe's creativity and imagination save the day.
(Hey—we're guessing Banksy got in to trouble in school back in the day as well.)
As we leave him, Rafe's excited to start the next year at a new school where—hopefully—he won't be bored out of his mind. We're guessing they may have a few rules even in art school though…but murals are probably encouraged.
And hey: maybe Rafe can suggest that any of his future rule-breaking is actually performance art.