Middle School: Escape to Australia


By James Patterson

Illustrated by Daniel Griffo

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In this adventurous installment of James Patterson’s bestselling Middle School series, everyone’s favorite underdog hero Rafe Khatchadorian is headed to the dangerous wilds of Australia!

Rafe isn’t exactly considered a winner in Hills Village Middle School to say the least, but everything‘s about to change: he’s won a school-wide art competition, and the fabulous prize is getting to jet off to Australia for a whirlwind adventure!

But Rafe soon finds that living in the Land Down Under is harder than he could’ve ever imagined: his host-siblings are anything but welcoming, the burning temperatures are torturous, and poisonous critters are ready to sting or eat him at every step. So with the help of some new misfit friends, Rafe sets out to show everyone what he does best: create utter mayhem!



You know that icky feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you look out of your bedroom window at night and see a mob of bloodthirsty Australian zombies heading right at you?


Well, I'm here to tell you that seeing a whole bunch of the walking dead making a beeline for yours truly was definitely NOT one of my better moments. And for any of you who've been keeping up with all things Khatchadorian, you'll know that there has been a ton of weirdness in my recent history.

From the look on their dirt-streaked, bug-eyed faces and the nasty collection of weapons they were waving around—pitchforks, tennis rackets, flaming torches, barbecue tongs, a rusty exhaust pipe from a 2006 Camry—these dudes were serious about claiming the top spot in Rafe Khatchadorian's All-Time Disasters List.

I don't mind admitting I was a teeny-tiny bit FREAKED OUT.

The zombie dudes had made a real effort, too. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to find a pitchfork these days? The fact that this mob had come up with THREE of them showed a real level of zombie determination.

Despite the pitchforks, there was, however, one tiny ray of hope that I could cling to: maybe it wasn't me they were after. It could be that the zombies had other delicious victims in mind besides the untasty and downright bony Rafe Khatchadorian of Hills Village.

That hope faded quickly when they started chanting: "WE WANT RAFE! WE WANT RAFE!"

I guess that settled it. The seriously messed-up truth was that these guys wanted BLOOD—and lots of it. Very specifically, they wanted my blood, which was a real problem. I like my blood. Call me selfish, but I want to keep as much of my blood as I possibly can, for as long as I can.

In a weird way, though, a small part of me was kind of proud. It takes a lot to make that many Australian zombies mad, but I, Rafe Khatchadorian, had managed it in just a few short weeks. Ta-da!

Three weeks ago I didn't know a single person in Australia, let alone a zombie, and now I had a baying mob of the undead at the front door. Not bad when you think of it that way.

I'm Rafe, by the way. On a good day—like, a really good day—I look like this:

But usually it's more like this:

Okay, I know what you're probably thinking about all this zombie stuff: that it sounds super exciting and majorly awesome,

but why should we listen to a single word you say?

Which is totally valid. But to explain everything, we'll have to go back, back through the mists of time, back to the very beginning of the story of how I ended up in this predicament.

Yep, we're going to middle school.


We'll get to the zombies later because the BIG news to start off with isn't mutant brain-eaters, it's that (drumroll, please!) I, Rafe Khatchadorian, have managed to stay enrolled at Hills Village Middle School for more than a minute.

That's right, you heard me. Since we last spoke, I have NOT been expelled. Not even suspended! Detention, well… let's not go that far. I'm not perfect.

But for me, not getting kicked out of school is seriously awesome, bordering on miraculous and hunkering down right next door to flat-out impossible.

For example, it seems like only yesterday that the seriously scary new vice principal at Hills Village, the knuckle-crunching Charlotte P. Stonecase (a.k.a. the Terror from Room 666, a.k.a. the Skull Keeper), forced me to take part in The Program, a kind of prison camp in the woods for "wayward students."

Wayward is just another way of saying troublemaking, and before I could say, "No, wait, I think there's been some kind of mistake," I was shipped off to the Rocky Mountains for a week of total attitude realignment.

For a while there it was touch and go, but somehow I survived and made it back from Colorado alive.

Who knows, maybe the bottom line is that VP Stonecase wasn't so far off the mark about what I needed. Maybe she's some sort of cosmic fortune-teller.

Anyway, this whole not-getting-into-major-trouble-at-Hills-Village-Middle-School situation was so weird that I was convinced the school had been taken over by pod creatures. You know, the kind of aliens who sneakily make themselves look like the regular people they've eaten until you're the only human left.

I decided to test my theory.

The big mistake I made was to test it by pulling Mr. Hernandez's mustache in gym class. You can already see where this is going, right?

Mr. Hernandez was standing in for Mr. Lattimore, our regular gym teacher, and I had some sort of brain-melting idea that pod people might use fake mustaches or something. Looking back on it, I don't know why I thought the aliens could replicate every other single thing about a person except a mustache.

Now, even though he'd just started teaching at Hills Village at the beginning of the year, I'd already learned that Mr. Hernandez was not what you'd call the forgiving type. In fact, trying to figure out once and for all if Mr. Hernandez was an alien by trying to pull off his mustache would normally have resulted in (at least) a hundred years of detention and Mr. Hernandez mutating into a black hole of vengeance.

But Mr. Hernandez only made me run twenty laps of the football field.

Like I said—weird. And I haven't even gotten to the drop bears yet.


Later that day, things got even weirder. The school had a special assembly, and after Principal Stricker droned on for, like, ten minutes, she introduced the mayor of Hills Village.

Mayor Blitz Coogan is one of those big, nice, friendly guys who slap everyone on the back in a big, nice, friendly way with their gigantic paws. He gave Principal Stricker such a big, nice, friendly pat on the back that she almost coughed up a lung and crowd-surfed off the stage.

"G'day, Hills Village!" Mayor Coogan boomed into the microphone. "Fair dinkum, it's a bonzer arvo for you and yer cobbers to put on the old budgie smugglers and take the planks down the beach to catch a couple of goofy breaks out back!"

There was a stunned silence.

Other than the words "Hills Village," nothing Mayor Coogan had said made any sense. We looked at him like he'd lost his mind. Mayor Coogan just stood there smiling like a guy who'd won the lottery.

"That's what folks in Australia speak like! I just got back from a trip to Shark's Bay, Australia, where my brother, Biff, lives. And I've got some very exciting news." Mayor Coogan paused again like he was announcing the winner of a national TV talent show. "Hills Village is now twinned with Shark's Bay!"

Mayor Coogan beamed a big smile that made him look like a xylophone was lodged in his mouth, and glanced expectantly around the auditorium like he was waiting for the applause to die down. The only problem was that there wasn't any, other than a few stray claps from the teachers.

The only way it could have been any worse was if his pants had fallen down.

"Twinning," Mayor Coogan continued, "means that our two towns are now special partners that will learn a lot from each other. It's all about reaching out, sharing ideas, and cultural exchange."

It all sounded so boring I almost passed out.

Until something Mayor Coogan said jolted me out of my drooly daydream.

"… and first prize in the Shark's Bay/Hills Village Art Competition will be a three-week, all-expenses-paid trip to Australia. Judging takes place next week. Get creative, Hills Village, and you could be on that plane!"

Art, I thought. I can do art.

I could win that prize! I bet Mom would like that A LOT.

Mostly because my trouble in middle school has been hard on Mom, too. HVMS has a rule book so big that it requires two grown men to open it—and I'm not exactly great at following the rules. So, naturally, I got expelled at one point. Mom wasn't too pleased.

You can see why I could use a fresh start, at least in Mom's eyes. Winning Mayor Coogan's art competition could give me another chance to make it up to her.

Well, another another chance.

But if I was such a good artist and I had a shot at a free trip Down Under, and if winning that trip would make Mom proud of me, why did I have a feeling in my stomach like I'd just swallowed an octopus?


Mayor Coogan's speech lasted longer than the last ice age, so I'll condense it down to the bare bones.

He explained that Shark's Bay was a surfing town north of Sydney. The idea was that the winner of the art competition would live there for three weeks and create artwork inspired by Australian culture, then exhibit it at a special party. An Australian artist would come over to Hills Village to do the same thing. Now, I had no idea what Shark's Bay was like, and I didn't want to diss my own hometown, but that didn't sound like much of a trade for the other side.

An expert panel—Mayor Blitz Coogan, Ms. Donatello (the Hills Village Middle School art teacher), and Earl O'Reilly of Earl's Auto (the sponsor of the prize)—would make the decision.

After the assembly, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Ms. Donatello.

"You should give it a shot," she said. "I think you have a real chance, Rafe."

Ms. Donatello is always doing stuff like that. She's a bit like my mom—saying I can do things even when I'm not too sure I can. She really believes in me. It kind of freaks me out, but in a good way.

"Don't you want a free trip to Australia?"

Um, YES! Who wouldn't want a free trip to Australia?

Beaches, sun, shrimps on the barbie, palm trees… uh… kangaroos. But even though Ms. Donatello had a good point, that octopus in my guts was still sloshing around like crazy.

And I knew exactly why.

It was all thanks to the Discovery Channel.


Flashback to three days earlier, a Friday night. My absolute favorite night of the week, and I was practicing my favorite pastime: playing my TrollQuest video game with a bag of corn chips balanced on my knee for easy snack-cess. I'm pretty good at it.

Georgia was out doing little-sister stuff somewhere with her little-sister friends, and Mom had the night off from work, so she was making something tasty-smelling in the kitchen. I settled into the cushions, put my feet up, and switched on the TV.

"Doesn't get much better than this, hmm, Leo?" I shoveled another fistful of Tastee Taco Shells into my mouth as I heaved a boulder onto some troll-eating maggots. Leo didn't say anything. He had a mouthful of Tastee Taco Shells. Plus, he's not real.

These days he mostly sticks to showing up in my drawings. I mean, it's not like I'm completely nuts. Not yet, anyway.

After I finished my TrollQuest level, I flipped on a Discovery Channel special about—you guessed it—Australia. It was great. Apparently, everything in Australia is dangerous. Everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything everything.

Even the flowers are toxic. Flowers.

There's a fruit that tastes like paradise but contains vicious barbed hooks that latch on to the soft part of your throat, causing you to die. HOOKS! What possible reason could there be for a tasty fruit to contain killer throat hooks?

And the Irukandji, the world's most venomous jellyfish, lives in Australia. The thing looks like an evil, transparent gummy bear.

They have birds that could kill you.

Why would a giant bird need claws? It makes no sense. The cassowary can't even fly. It has these little stunted wings. Wouldn't it have been a better idea for the cassowaries to grow some actual wings and leave the claws and sprinting to the cheetahs?

Creature after creature rolled on-screen, each of them even more fearsome, more bloodthirsty, or just plain weirder than the last. Crocodiles as big as school buses, Tasmanian devils (don't ask), goannas (basically dinosaurs), ghost bats (of course), stonefish (deadly fish sneakily disguised as stones), poisonous blue-ringed octopuses (cute little octopuses that are possibly the most poisonous creatures on the planet), venomous snakes by the bucketload, redback spiders, scorpions, stick insects (so big they should be called log insects), killer caterpillars (caterpillars!), toadfish (with teeth shaped like a parrot's beak that are capable of ripping off your toe)… and sharks.

Lots and lots and lots of sharks. Tiger sharks, bull sharks, makos, hammerheads, blues, and the big daddy of them all—the shark that gives me nightmares—the great white.

Nothing on earth could have ever persuaded me to set foot in Australia.

"They have sharks in America, too, dummy," Leo said.

"Not in Hills Village, they don't," I replied.

It was like the whole ecosystem had been designed by a complete nutzoid with a really twisted sense of humor. As far as I could tell, Australia was basically an island full of monsters.

"Man, that is one scary place!" I muttered, and switched the channel to something more soothing—a show about a friendly neighborhood serial killer.


Okay, so we've established that there was absolutely no way, no how, no chance on this earth that I would ever even think about entering the Shark's Bay/Hills Village Art Competition.

And on Tuesday morning that's exactly what I didn't do—think.

Without knowing why (and most likely because Ms. Donatello used some kind of sneaky alien brainwashing device), I found myself bundling up my best drawings and my sketchbook, putting them into a folder, taking them in to school, walking to the judging room, and submitting my drawings to the art competition committee.

As I closed the door on my way out, everything seemed to get sharper and clearer, as though the entire morning had taken place underwater. Ms. Donatello's secret brainwashing device must have been more powerful than I realized.

It doesn't really matter, though, I thought on my way back to class. There was no way on earth I'd win. Stuff like that doesn't happen to me. Rafe Khatchadorian is the kid who gets busted, the kid who messes things up, the kid who's stalked by Miller the Killer through the halls of Hills Village, the kid who, above everything else, fails.

But maybe there was an alignment of the planets or something, because…


  • Praise for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life:
    A #1 New York Times Bestseller
    A #1 Indiebound Bestseller
    A 2012 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers
    A 2013 Hawaii's Children's Choice Award Winner
    A 2013 ALSC Summer Reading List Book
    A 2010 Oregon Children's Choice Award Winner
    A 2014 Oregon Reader's Choice Award Nominee

On Sale
Mar 6, 2017
Hachette Audio

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

Learn more at jamespatterson.com

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