Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Middle School: Save Rafe! (Middle School #5) by James Patterson, Chris Tebbetts

It is hard to rise above the average fare of humorous books. The conventions of a teenager feeling awkward around girls and getting into trouble by making bad decisions or being in the wrong place at the wrong time are common. This book fits in this niche and while it has moments, it is not memorable. Books that stick with me have great character development and interesting plots with some in-depth themes. The more I read, the more I admire authors. What a complex craft with little monetary rewards for most. If you haven't noticed, this is book 5 in the Middle School series. I would recommend reading the first because not much background is given as to why Rafe is such a delinquent. The way he is presented in this book, I thought he seemed like a nice, insecure kid. I had to read some reviews of the first book to see a glimpse of his self-destructive behavior in previous books.

Rafe's art school is closed and he finds out he must go back to Hills Village Middle School (HVMS), but he's been expelled from the school because of a serious issue that isn't explained and seems to have happened in a previous book. Since Rafe has no other options he is required to go to an outdoor survival camp where he must past tests in order to even be considered for re-enrollment at HVMS. At camp he finds himself with a bunch of other delinquents that have issues.  They learn to white-water raft, rock climb, rappel, and mountaineer. While they don't become best of friends the group does learn to work as a team (a whiny team but they get the job done). More importantly, Rafe takes baby steps toward learning to stand up for himself against others.

Throughout the plot Rafe seems normal and nice and not a hard-core troublemaker which is how HVMS's principal and assistant principal treat him. I needed a bit more background to understand his situation. As is, Rafe seems like a nice kid being mistreated by stereotyped authority figures. Rafe's motivation for succeeding at camp is that he wants to make his mom happy and prove the nasty principals are wrong about him. The simple plot is easy to follow and the cartoons have Rafe either daydreaming or retelling the text. I preferred the cartoons that didn't retell but added to the development of him as a character. Rafe's brother that died as a toddler is in the cartoons as a sounding board for Rafe or to give him sympathy. I thought there might be more exploration about this, but there isn't. Rafe has a few Walter Mitty moments that are funny. The Loozer comic strip Rafe writes is mostly slapstick humor or Rafe daydreaming. I found some of them funny and most boring.

Rafe has a sister that is brilliant and the sound of reason. She is his foil. When she tries to show him how to talk to a girl even breaking the ice for him, he completely misses her cue and acts like a dork. His character arc is to gain confidence and stand up for himself. While his self-deprecation can be funny at times, it can also be painful. He thinks so little of himself. I wanted the Sergeant to give him some action steps for dealing with Carmen who is bullying him, but all he says is to stand up for himself. Rafe figures it out, but I find the mentor-type sub character more interesting than the one-dimensional Sergeant Fish. Every time I thought his character traits where developing into someone of interest, it was cut short. Which is basically why I'll forget this book. It wasn't memorable. While the book had potential it doesn't achieve the depth that can be found in similar books within this genre. A good one for readers intimidated by lots of text.

3 Smileys

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