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Great Illustrated Books

Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life

By James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park

Little, Brown and Company, 2011
Pages : 288
Suggested Ages: 9-12
ISBN: 9780316322027

Middle School doesn’t begin well for Rafe Khatchadorian. Between run-ins with the school bully, Miller “The Killer” and a book of rules that the school actually takes seriously, to say Rafe is disillusioned with the educational system would be understatement. And so it’s totally understandable when his best friend, Leonardo, suggests that Rafe set out to break every rule in the book.  They concoct a complicated game plan, with point values for the different rules and bonus points awarded for talking to Rafe’s crush, Jeanne. 

Of course, this will not improve Rafe’s life at school or at home.  It even puts a strain on the tender relationship he has with his mother who works lots of overtime as a diner waitress, while her live-in fiancé, Bear, sits around the house and watches television all day.  And it makes things worse with tattle-tale little sister Georgia who makes it her business to know everyone else’s business.  Rafe chronicles it all in a special notebook that Leo illustrates, and trouble looms when Miller gets his hands on the notebook and begins to blackmail Rafe .

In short, illustrated, page-turner chapters, with lots of humor and genuine understanding, James Patterson follows Rafe through the first year of middle school, and offers readers a great twist, when he reveals that Leo is imaginary. Turns out, Rafe has been doing all the drawing in his notebook – he’s been doing everything – himself all along.

Rafe may be an unreliable narrator, but as he works his way through his first year of middle school, breaking rules and serving detentions, readers will root for him.   This illustrated novel uses a similar format to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but the art by Laura Park is more developed and detailed, including some great double-page spreads.  The eye-catching cover provides a glimpse at the fun to be found inside.

Young readers in upper elementary and middle school will cheer Rafe on in his quest and enjoy the cartoony art, while adults will appreciate this unique coming-of-age story.

Reviewed by : KK

Themes : GRAPHIC NOVELS. DIARIES. FAMILY LIFE. MIDDLE SCHOOL.

If you love this book, then try:

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007.


Pierce, Lincoln. Big Nate: In a Class by Himself. HarperCollins, 2010.


Rockwell, Thomas. How to Eat Fried Worms. Yearling, 2006.


Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Amulet Books, 2010.