You might know him better from the Alex Cross novels, such as Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, etc., but you might not have known that James Patterson also writes some young adult novels, as well. (Yes, I’m back to reviewing kid’s fiction. My total book count for 2013 is at 82, with a month to go. I need to read 18 books in December. Yikes!)
With large, kid-like illustrations, Middle School is a Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style narration of Rafe Katchadorian’s time in sixth grade. Egged on by his friend Leo the Silent, Rafe decides to break every rule in the school’s rules manual, earning points similar to how one would in a video game. Why is Rafe doing this? One, to catch the eye of a girl, and two, because it’s obvious to us as readers that Rafe is suffering from some kind of deeper issue. As the book winds on, we’re confronted with a sad reality – Leo isn’t real. In fact, he is an imaginary manifestion of Rafe’s twin brother, who died tragically when the boys were little. Rafe doesn’t dwell on it; he tells us this in a matter-of-fact style. However, as readers, we’re left to contemplate the long-term devastation of losing a twin that must be playing on Rafe’s current life.
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Wimpy Kid series, but it has potential. There are some more serious issues at play here; along with the death of Rafe’s twin brother, there is a somewhat abusive live-in boyfriend who Rafe obviously dislikes, as he draws him not as a human being, but a bear. I think boys will enjoy this book. My third grader probably isn’t ready for it, but by fifth grade I would probably let him read it.