After sixth grade, the very worst year of his life, Rafe Khatchadorian thinks he has it made in seventh grade. He's been accepted to art school in the big city and imagines a math-and-history-free fun zone. Wrong! It's more competitive than Rafe ever expected, and to score big in class, he needs to find a way to turn his boring life into the inspiration for a work of art. His method? Operation: Get a Life! Anything he's never done before, he's going to do it, from learning to play poker to going to a modern art museum. But when his newest mission uncovers secrets about the family Rafe's never known, he has to decide if he's ready to have his world turned upside down.
About the Author
Hometown:Palm Beach, Florida
Date of Birth:March 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Newburgh, New York
Education:B.A., Manhattan College, 1969; M.A., Vanderbilt University, 1971
Read an Excerpt
Middle School: Get Me out of Here!
By Patterson, James
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2012 Patterson, James
All right reserved.
Well, who’d have thought so much could change in one summer? Not me, that’s for sure. Not my best buddy, Leonardo the Silent.
Probably not the folks at Airbrook Arts Community School either. That’s where I was supposed to start seventh grade in the fall.
Supposed to. You caught that, right? There’s a reason my last book was called Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. Sixth grade was only the start. I’ve got a whole lot more to tell you about. But first I should introduce myself.
Anyway, I guess I should have seen it coming. It’s like every time things start to look okay in my crazy life, something always comes along to change it. It’s like it just falls out of the sky.
And everything changed on the day Swifty’s Diner burned to the ground.
Here’s what happened. See, there’s this thing called a grease trap over the grill at the diner, where Swifty (also known as Fred) cooked about fifteen dozen greasy burgers every day. If you don’t clean out the trap once in a while, it turns into a giant fireball, just waiting to go off.
And guess what?
I didn’t get to see much. I was in the storage room in the back, just passing the time and waiting for Mom to finish her lunch shift. Then all of a sudden, I heard this giant WHOOM! People started yelling, the fire alarm started blaring, and I could smell smoke.
A second later, Mom was there.
“Come on, Rafe,” she said. “We have to go—right now!” And she hustled me out the back door.
Nobody was hurt, but flames were coming through the windows and up through the roof before the Hills Village Fire Department even got there.
By the time the firefighters finally put out the fire, Swifty’s Diner looked more like Swifty’s Big Pile of Ashes. Everything was all black and smoking, and the restaurant was just—gone.
And that’s not all.
No Swifty’s meant no job for Mom.
No job meant no money to pay the rent on our house.
No house meant we had to pack up all our stuff and get out.
(See what I mean about everything changing?)
The only place we could go was Grandma Dotty’s. She told Mom we could come stay there as long as we wanted, which was really nice of her and everything, but the problem was, she lived in the city, about eighty miles away. In other words, way too far for me to even think about going to Airbrook anymore. Now I was going to be starting seventh grade at some big-city middle school, where kids like me get turned into chopped meat every single day.
So there you have it. Chapter 1 isn’t even over, and I’m already starting a whole new life. Try to keep up if you can. This is only the very beginning, where I say—
Good-bye, Hills Village!
Good-bye, lucky breaks!
And hello, seventh grade!
Here’s what it looked like on the day we left Hills Village. Not too shabby, huh?
OR SOMeTHiNG LiKe THAT
Yeah, I wish.
If you know me, then you know I have what my mom likes to call an “active imagination” and what some of my teachers might call a “tendency to lie.”
I like to think of it as putting my own spin on the things that happen to me. But don’t worry—I’ll always steer you straight. In fact, here’s what it really looked like when we left town:
Those people waving are Ms. Donatello and Jeanne Galletta, two of the only people who were nice to me at Hills Village Middle School.
Ms. Donatello was my sixth-grade English teacher. I used to call her the Dragon Lady, but she turned out to be human after all. She was also the one who got me into Airbrook, before my big plans went down the garbage disposal.
As for Jeanne, she was nice to everyone, so I don’t even know if that counts. When I told her I’d try to keep in touch, she said I could leave a message on her HVMS student page. Was that a good sign? You tell me. I don’t exactly have a ton of experience with girls. Or friends. Much less… girlfriends. Still, if there was one person I was going to miss, it was Jeanne.
So if you haven’t guessed by now, it’s not like I was leaving behind some kind of perfect track record in Hills Village. Which is maybe the understatement of the year.
And if you want to know what I mean, just check out the next chapter.
MY TOP TeN(ACTuALLY ONLY SiX)
Rafe Khatchadorian’s Top Ten Six Biggest Accomplishments From Sixth Grade (try not to be too impressed):
WeLCOMe TO THe BiG CiTY!
This is going to be great,” Mom kept saying while we drove into the city. “I can’t wait to show you guys around. There’s so much to do here, and you’re going to love the park.”
I stopped listening after a while. I think my sister, Georgia, did too. We both just stared out the window, trying to imagine living here.
Fill in whatever city you want—New York, Chicago, Boston, South Bend, Boise, Omaha… whatever. Just imagine lots of shiny skyscrapers, perfectly clean sidewalks, and millions of happy people catching money as it rains out of the sky.
Now think about the exact opposite of that. Got it?
Welcome to Grandma Dotty’s neighborhood. Also known as our new home.
“This is where you grew up?” Georgia said, and not in a nice way.
“It used to be… different,” Mom said, but you could tell she meant better. Now I knew why Grandma always came to visit us in Hills Village and not the other way around.
All the houses on the block were crammed together, one after the other. They didn’t have any side yards or front yards. Just sidewalks. I saw a lot of garbage cans and graffiti too.
“I’m never going to make any friends here,” Georgia whined.
“Come on, honey. I know it’s a big adjustment, but you’ve got to stay positive,” Mom said.
“Okay,” Georgia said. “I’m positive I’m never going to make any friends here.”
Mom took a deep breath. “How about you, Rafe? Are you ready to give city life a chance?”
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
The truth was, I felt exactly the same way as Georgia. I didn’t want to live here, and I definitely didn’t want to go to school here.
But unlike my little sister, who never knows when to shut her mouth, I knew that Mom was doing the best she could.
“Well, here we are,” she said, and stopped in front of the fifth house from the end of the block. “Six twenty-five Killarney Avenue.”
Georgia made a sound like she was coughing up a hair ball. “It’s the worst one on the street!” she said.
“It just needs some spiffing up,” Mom said. “You’ll see. All it takes is a little imagination. Isn’t that right, Rafe?”
“Sure,” I said. “Just a little imagination. That’s all.”
SMALL AND FuLL
I always used to hear Mom say Grandma Dotty was a big pack rat. And to be honest, I never really thought about what that meant. I just thought:
But as soon as we walked into her house, I knew exactly what it meant. If there were two words to describe Grandma’s place, they would be small and full.
“Come in, come in, come in!” she said, hugging us all like crazy. “Do you have much more to bring in from the car?” Grandma asked Mom.
“Not much,” Mom said. Most of our stuff was in a big storage locker back in Hills Village.
“That’s good. I’m a little short on closet space at the moment,” Grandma said, but it looked to me like she was a little short on Rafe-Mom-and-Georgia space too.
“What’s with the long faces, kiddos?” Grandma asked me and Georgia. “You two look like someone’s dog just died.”
“They’re just tired,” Mom told her. “It’s been a big day.”
“This little one’s ready to drop,” Grandma said, looking at Georgia. “And Ralph, I’ll bet you could eat a horse and a half by now.”
“Um…” I said, but I was thinking—
All of a sudden, I felt even weirder about being here.
“It’s Rafe, Mom,” my mom said. “Not Ralph.”
“Well, of course it is,” Grandma said. “I’m sorry, Rafe. Just a slip of the tongue. Now, come on—who’s hungry?”
I looked at Mom, and she nodded like everything was going to be fine. And in fact, whatever Grandma was cooking smelled amazing, just like Mom’s lasagna from home.
Then, when we came into the kitchen, I saw something else familiar.
“Isn’t that one of yours?” I asked Mom.
“Sure is,” she said.
The last time I’d seen any of her paintings on a wall was at Swifty’s Diner, but those had gone up in smoke, along with everything else.
“In this house, your mother is a famous artist,” Grandma said. Then she turned around and bowed right down in front of Mom.
Mom laughed. Georgia did too, for the first time in about a week.
“That’s the ticket!” Grandma said. “Much better.”
She reached over and tickled Georgia under the chin, and pretty soon everyone was laughing.
“Now these are the Khatchadorians I remember,” Grandma said, and hugged me all over again. “We’re going to have a great time together. Isn’t that right, Ralph?”
A NiGHT ON THe TOWN
It’s two in the morning and I’m wide awake. Mom gave me the choice between sleeping on the couch downstairs and sharing the guest room with Georgia, which of course was no contest. At least down here I have a little privacy.
Still, I can’t sleep. I’m too busy trying to figure out how I’m going to get through this year. It hasn’t even started yet, and all I see is rough road ahead.
I finally drift off, but it isn’t long before Leonardo the Silent strolls into my dreams.
“What are you doing?” he says.
“I’m trying to sleep,” I tell him.
“No, you’re trying to mope,” Leo tells me. “Come on. There’s a whole big city out there. We’ve got better things to do.”
He’s right, of course.
I jump out of bed (out of couch?), and we make a fake Rafe under the blankets, including a superrealistic mask of my face, just in case Mom or Grandma comes down in the middle of the night. Then we slip into our stealth gear and out the door. A second later we hit the streets.
“Where do you want to go first?” Leo asks.
“Somewhere up high,” I say. “Let’s get a look at what we’re dealing with.”
“Excellent choice.” He points the way toward the city’s tallest building. “Good thing I brought the climbing gear.”
We move like shadows, using back alleys and hidden passages to get there. With all the shortcuts Leo knows, we’re standing at the base of Megamega Towers in no time.
“So that’s what three hundred stories looks like,” I say.
“Wait till you see it from the top,” Leo tells me.
As soon as we’re harnessed up, we step into our suction-cup boots and head toward the sky.
“Don’t look down until we get there,” Leo tells me. “It’ll be worth the wait.”
He’s right about that too. Once we hit the roof of that skyscraper, I can see for miles and miles in every direction.
“Can’t do this in Hills Village,” Leo says.
The cars below look like baby ants with tiny headlights, and the whole city is spread out in front of me like the world’s biggest game board. All I have to do now is pick my next move.
“Maybe this year isn’t going to be so bad after all,” I say.
“Well, if you like this,” Leo says, “you’re going to love the ride down.”
As we step into our portable hang glider, the sun just starts to show over the horizon. My first night in the big city has flown by already. Mom will be waking up soon, and I’ve got to head back.
But in the meantime—what a view!
Okay, time out for a second.
If you read the last book, then you already know all about Leo. I mean, especially the part about how he’s not really real. But if that’s news to you, then there’s some other stuff you should probably know too. It’s kind of heavy, but let me get it out of the way now.
The real Leonardo was my twin brother. He got sick and died when we were both three years old. It was really sad, for sure, but it was also a long time ago. I barely remember any of it.
The point is, I’ve always wondered what Leo would be like if he were still around. I guess that’s who I’ve been talking to all this time—like an idea of Leo, also known as Leonardo the Silent.
So now, if you’re thinking—
—all I can tell you is, I’m not. Seriously. I’m just… well, I don’t really know what I am. Imaginative, I guess. A loner, for sure. But not cuckoo.
Mom says Leo’s my muse. That’s someone who helps an artist get ideas and think things through, even though the muse isn’t really there. And, yeah, that pretty much describes him. Leo may not be real, but in some weird way he helps me deal with the things that are. That’s also why he’s my best friend.
Hey, I never said it wasn’t complicated. I just said I’m not crazy.
MOM THROWS A CuRVeBALL
The next morning, Mom made really good French toast for breakfast. It’s Georgia’s favorite, with bananas and maple syrup. And extra cinnamon on mine.
“Rafe, when you’re done, I want you to put on the shirt I left out for you,” Mom said. “And clean pants, please.”
That stopped me with a mouthful of everything. Nothing good ever happens in clothes your mom picks out for you.
“What’s going on?” I said.
She just smiled and slid me some seconds. “It’s a surprise,” she said.
“Where’s Rafe going?” Georgia said. “What’s happening? Can I come?”
“Everyone’s coming,” Mom said, but that’s all she would tell. A little while later, we were piled into the car and headed up Killarney Avenue.
Mom really knew her way around the city. She pointed out the science museum, the IMAX, the ballpark, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I knew she was trying to get us excited about living here.
What I didn’t understand was why my shirt had to be tucked in right now.
Finally, I said, “Mom—please. Just tell me where we’re going.”
“Okay, okay. We’re almost there anyway,” she said. “Now, don’t be nervous—”
“What do you mean?” I said. “Why shouldn’t I be nervous?”
“Well, I know how disappointed you were about not going to Airbrook,” Mom said. “But this morning, we might be able to do something about that. You’ve got an interview, Rafe. At Cathedral School of the Arts.”
Excerpted from Middle School: Get Me out of Here! by Patterson, James Copyright © 2012 by Patterson, James. Excerpted by permission.
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