You might have seen some of James Patterson’s thrillers for adults, but he also writes for young adults and juveniles. Patterson’s style in Middle School, co-authored with Chris Tebbetts,shows that he is capable of adapting his writing to appeal to all ages. Interspersed within the text of the story are drawings by artist Laura Park, which look like they came straight from the imagination of a sixth grader.
Rafe is shy and doesn’t like to be noticed. In grade school he preferred to sit in the back of the class, but this year, before the first class officially starts, he immediately runs into a very big and potentially painful problem. Looking for someone to pick on, Miller, a.k.a Miller the Killer, threatens Rafe with bodily harm, declaring that the seat on which Rafe is sitting is his.
Awkwardly, Rafe moves to another seat, until Miller threatens him again. He goes to another one, then yet another one, with little success because it turns out that Miller considers every unoccupied seat his own. This sticky situation continues until Mr. Rourke, the teacher, intervenes with “SIT. DOWN. NOW!”
Rafe realizes he suddenly has a proverbial “target” on his back. Since he’s already been noticed by some, Rafe hatches a plan that will get him noticed by everyone, including a very pretty girl named Jeanne Gillette. But Rafe’s plan isn’t for the faint of heart; he might have stopped before getting into really big trouble, but he’s already blabbed his intentions to his friend Leo, who goads him to continue. Eventually, we find out why the story began with a flash-forward to Rafe, his little sister, and Leo sitting in the back of a police car.
The story focuses on Rafe’s internal struggles and schemes. Rafe’s character is the only one that’s fully developed, but while Leo the Silent and the bully Miller the Killer are one-dimensional characters, they are vital to the story. Rafe’s mother and sister are integrated into the story, too, but again, neither of them is fleshed out.
Whether or not it was Patterson’s intention, one thing becomes readily apparent: Cohabitation isn’t healthy for the children involved. Rafe’s beloved mother, Jules, is engaged to a lazy, ill-tempered guy named Carl, a.k.a. Bear. Readers don’t find out if Rafe’s father died or left, but his mother has to work double shifts to support the family, including Bear. There is plenty of data that proves that children living with adults who aren’t their own parents are at risk; this story shows just a few of the problems it can cause.
Patterson provides some surprising twists in this drama. Readers get the feeling that something isn’t quite what it seems, but Patterson teases it out over the course of the book. A couple of things that we discover are that not everyone learns in the same manner, and not every school can meet every student’s need.
It’s a story that is highly relatable to juvenile readers in its portrait of a vulnerable young man making his way in a new, and at times, hostile environment.
Kim Moreland manages the Colson Center Library, is a research associate for BreakPoint, and writes feature articles and blog posts for BreakPoint.
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