Illustrated by Laura Park
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Time to Go
At the airport, everything was crazy. There were kids and parents and chaperones trying to find each other, plus half a zillion other people, all traveling in half a zillion other directions.
And then there was a little room where we could all finally stop and gather up for our big goodbyes before I had to find the other kids. It was definitely insane, but I could actually start to see the adventure I had been imagining.
“Excited?” Grandma asked me.
“Yep,” I said, but honestly, I was kind of nervous, too.
“You sure you have everything?” Mom asked me.
“Yep,” I said, even though I had this weird feeling I was forgetting something.
“Are you really sure you have everything?” Georgia asked, in that annoying way where you know she’s not really asking a question. Then she held up the phone Grandma was lending me for the trip with a really smug smile.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked her.
“It was sitting on your bed while you were walking out the front door, genius,” she said.
“I told you to stay out of my room,” I said, and grabbed it back.
When it comes to snooping, my sister has superpowers. And she was definitely going to do some supersnooping while I was in London. That’s why I’d spent the last week blowing my nose and leaving all the used Kleenex in my desk and dresser drawers. There was also some mega-realistic plastic dog puke on my closet floor, and a note under my mattress that said “STOP SNOOPING OR DIE!”
But that was it. I couldn’t worry about Georgia anymore. It was time to go. Mrs. Stricker was yelling at the parents to say goodbye so we could all get ready to hop into the security line, which looked about two miles long.
“All right, off you go,” Mom said, and then walked me a little closer. When it comes to saying goodbye, Mom always likes a little time alone with me. I kind of like it, too.
“This is so exciting. Your first time out of the country without me!” she said. “And who would’ve thought you’d turn into such an international jetsetter? I thought Australia was exciting enough, what with the surfing and drop bears and the bunyip adventure, which I would personally rather forget.” She stopped, embarrassed.
She was rambling about my last trip abroad—I won a school art competition and the prize was a free trip to the Land Down Under. Things didn’t turn out so well, but I was glad I had the chance to go.
Even if it did end in disaster.
“You’re going to have a great trip, sweetheart,” Mom finished.
“Yeah…,” I said. “I guess so.”
“You guess?” Mom said.
“What is it?” she said.
She can always tell when I’m feeling weird about something. And this wasn’t the kind of weird I wanted to put in a video, where everyone would hear about it. But I could tell Mom, even if it came out a little awkward.
See, this was supposed to be some great thing, right? I was really lucky to go somewhere as crazy exciting as London. (Grandma helped out and got her friends to buy about twenty thousand rolls of wrapping paper in our school fund-raiser, and I got a scholarship, thanks to Ms. Donatello.)
But here’s the problem: the only real friends I had were staying back in Hills Village, on the wrong side of a pretty huge ocean. That included Flip Savage, the funniest kid I’ve ever known, and Junior, my dog and best non-human friend.
In other words, I was on my own for this trip. Totally friend-free. Which was like going back to the bad old days at Hills Village Middle School, when I was about as popular as Mystery Meat Monday in the cafeteria.
“It’s just… I don’t have any friends on this trip,” I told Mom.
“What about Jeanne Galletta?” Mom asked.
“Jeanne doesn’t count,” I said. “She’s really nice, but it’s not like we’re actually friends.”
I probably (definitely) wasn’t supposed to like Jeanne as much as I did. But try telling that to my brain. I just couldn’t help it.
Right now, Jeanne was standing with the rest of the kids along with her stupid perfect boyfriend, Jared McCall, who I am NOT jealous of. It’s just that Jared’s so good at everything, you kind of want to stick his head in a toilet sometimes.
“Well, I see at least one girl looking your way, Rafe. I think you might be more popular with the ladies than you realize.”
“Don’t say ladies,” I said. “And besides, you’re my mom. You have to say that stuff.”
“How about Ms. Donatello?” Mom said. “You like her, don’t you?”
“Sure,” I said. “For a teacher. But that doesn’t really count.”
“Well, here’s an idea. Why don’t you try making a few new friends?” Mom asked me.
That one was harder to answer. I mean, everyone in middle school already knew me, and it wasn’t like I’d been sitting on all the good parts of my personality so I could bust them out now and start winning popularity contests. I pretty much knew by now who my friends were and who wouldn’t be caught dead talking to me.
I didn’t know if Mom would understand all that, but I’ll bet you do, right?
“I guess,” I mumbled, which was easier than telling her everything I just told you.
“It can’t hurt to be friendly,” Mom said. “I wouldn’t want you to spend the whole trip alone with that sketchbook of yours.”
She had a point. I did bring my sketchbook, for sure. I love to draw, including my Loozer comics, which you may already know about. You’ll definitely see some more of those later.
“Now, you better go or Mrs. Stricker is going to leave without you,” she said.
Mrs. Stricker is the principal of Hills Village Middle School. She also happens to hate the ground I walk on. Right now, she was evil-eyeing me like I was holding up the whole airport.
“Sorry, Ida,” Mom called out to her. “He’s coming!”
“Mmglrrr,” Mrs. Stricker mumbled, which I think was something about should have left without him. But I couldn’t be sure.
“Bon voyage, sweetie!” Mom said, and gave me one more quick hug for luck. “I love you. And remember what I said.”
“I will,” I told her.
And I would.
I’d remember every word… just as soon as I got busy being the least popular kid on that whole trip.
Hey, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Hang on. Sure I was all set to be pretty lonely and awkward, but you don’t even know the worst part.
Once everyone said goodbye, Mrs. Stricker and the other chaperones got us all standing in one place and started counting heads.
“We will have four daily roll calls on this trip,” Mrs. Stricker said. “When I call your name, respond with a nice, clear ‘PRESENT.’ Not ‘Yeah’ or ‘Huh?’ or ‘That’s me.’ The proper response is ‘PRESENT.’ Understood?”
And then she started down the list, checking off names in alphabetical order.
“Yeah! Uh, I mean, present!”
Then all of a sudden, someone was yelling in the airport.
“Excuse me! So sorry! Coming through! Excuse me!”
I looked over and saw this lady running toward us, waving at Mrs. Stricker. Behind her was a man in a suit and tie, carrying a suitcase. They both looked kind of fancy to me, like they belonged on the cover of Whole-Lotta-Money Magazine. But I’d never seen them before.
“I’m so terribly sorry to be late,” the lady said when she got there. “Dryden is going potty in the little boys’ room, but he’ll be right here.”
“Who’s Dryden?” someone said behind me. I was wondering the same thing. Was there some little kid coming on this trip?
“It’s almost time for us to be at our gate,” Mrs. Stricker said. She had this look on her face like she hadn’t gone to the bathroom in a week. I think she was trying to be polite.
“Yes, yes, yes,” the lady said. “Again, I’m soooo very sorry, but I can’t tell you how much Dryden is looking forward to this. We took him to Hong Kong last summer, and he—”
“Here he is!” the man in the suit said. “Come along, Dryden. Chop-chop!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Keep your pants on, Dad,” someone said.
When I turned around, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right there, coming toward us, was the one… the only… Miller.
A.k.a. Miller the Killer.
Also known as the Grim Reaper in size 10 Nikes, and the last kid on earth I wanted to see just then.
Ever since middle school started, Miller and I had been through a lot of ups and downs. Mostly, it was about me trying to stand up for myself and him knocking me back down. During football season, when we were on the same team and I was actually useful to him, we had this weird truce, and things were okay for about five minutes. After our last game, Miller went back to spending most of his time making sure I was suffering enough. I guess everyone needs a hobby.
So on top of being obnoxious, mean, and just dumb enough to be dangerous, it turned out Miller was rich, too. And his name was… Dryden? Nobody at school ever called him anything but Miller. Not even the teachers. I actually kind of thought his full name was Miller Miller.
Meanwhile, I don’t think “Dryden” was nearly as into this trip as his parents were saying. He was standing there now, looking about as excited as an extra-angry cow on the way to the slaughterhouse. And that was lousy news for all of us. Because the only thing worse than regular Miller is Miller in a bad mood.
So far, he hadn’t even noticed me. I guess he was too busy sulking. But there were only thirty-six kids in the group. It wasn’t like I’d blend in forever. It was just a matter of time before I got on Miller’s radar, and then the real fun would begin.
And by real fun, I pretty much mean the exact opposite.
All right then,” Mrs. Stricker said, while Miller’s parents gave him a bunch of hugs and kisses goodbye (which was also weird to see). “Where was I?”
“Andrea Chin,” Alison Prouty said, because she lives to kiss up.
“Present,” Andrea said. “Again.”
“Martin D’Angelo?” Mrs. Stricker said.
“Present!” Martin said.
And it kept going pretty much like that, up to the Ks, which is me. I was standing on the edge of the group, trying not to be noticed, but then Mrs. Stricker called my name.
“Rafe Khatchadorian?” she said.
“Present!” I said… sort of. Except my voice cracked right in the middle of saying it.
My voice had been doing that a lot lately, which my mom told me not to worry too much about, but it’s really embarrassing. It just stank that I had to sound like I’d swallowed an old bike horn at completely random times. Especially with thirty-five kids right there to hear it.
A bunch of people laughed, of course. But not as hard as they did after Miller put in his two cents.
“Is that Khatchadorian? Or Squeakadorian?” he yelled, putting a couple fake squeaks of his own in for good measure, and even more people cracked up. I saw Jeanne smile, too, even though she put a hand over her mouth to hide it. At least she was trying to be nice.
I didn’t even care about Miller’s stupid nicknames anymore. He had about a hundred of them, and it had gotten old a long time ago. The problem was, it felt like Miller had just turned on his OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign. When I looked over, he was smiling like maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Great. Just great. We weren’t even out of the country yet, and I was already wishing I’d never heard of London.
Or Miller, for that matter.
Living History, Ka-ching, Ka-ching!
After that, the chaperones started passing around these blue folders while Mrs. Stricker got up and talked to everybody.
“What you are receiving now are packets for the Living-Learning Report you will be creating here in London as a group,” Mrs. Stricker said.
I already knew about the report, but this was a bunch of new information. Those packets were as thick as Snickers bars, and not in a good way.
“On the first page, you will see a list of topics to be included—arts, politics, science, history, and current events,” she said.
In other words, Mrs. Stricker was making sure that we put plenty of school into this school trip. And she wasn’t done yet, either.
“Each of those five topics will have one student coordinator. I will also be assigning one student as the entire project’s Editor in Chief. That person will work with me, Ms. Donatello, Mr. Rourke, and the topic leaders to oversee all content you generate as a team.”
The whole Editor in Chief thing had Jeanne Galletta’s name written all over it. I could see she was already going through that packet like it was Thanksgiving dinner and she couldn’t wait to dig in.
“We will be posting updates to the Hills Village Middle School website every day, effectively creating an informational running blog out of our trip,” Mrs. Stricker said. “We will also post our final report on Living-Learning-Contest.com, so I expect you all to take this project very seriously.”
“Contest?” Andrea Chin said. “What’s that mean?”
“It’s another word for a competition,” Alison Prouty said.
“Duh,” Andrea said. “I just mean—”
“Quiet!” Mrs. Stricker yelled, not so quietly. “If you will listen, I will explain.”
She gave us the famous Stricker eyeball for a second. If you’ve never seen it, believe me, you don’t want to. Mrs. Stricker can do more with a single look than most people can do with a laser cannon.
Then she kept going.
“Schools from around the country will be participating in this project. One school will be chosen as the Grand Prize winner and awarded ten thousand dollars’ worth of books and supplies. Also, every member of the winning school’s team will be placed in a drawing for an individual thousand-dollar cash prize.”
I don’t know why Mrs. Stricker waited so long to tell us that part, but here’s what I heard when she said it:
All of a sudden, this trip didn’t seem quite as bad as it had a minute ago. Even if my chances of winning that money were a million to one, it was better than not having a chance at all. Even at those odds, it’s as close as I’ve ever come to a thousand bucks before. (At least since my dog-walking empire went out of business.)
So you know everyone was paying attention now. And everyone was going to be taking those reports way more seriously now, too.
For that kind of cash, I sure was.
You Can Pick Your Nose, but You Can’t Pick Your Seat
The airplane we took to London was HUGE. The seats went so far back, it was basically like a football stadium. Each row had three seats on each side and five across the middle, with each section separated by aisles, which just made it look even more like referees were going to sprint out of the cockpit instead of pilots.
It was all assigned, too, so I didn’t have a choice. I was next to Bobby Flynn, who was next to Martin D’Angelo, who was next to Kadir Fletcher, who was next to… you guessed it… Miller.
Talk about good news, bad news. It wasn’t like Miller was right on top of me. But it did remind me of the first part of my new favorite movie, Hideous 3. That’s when the “new neighbors” are moving into the house next door, and you just know they’re flesh-eaters, because… well, you saw the first two Hideous movies. So you can’t even relax, even though nothing’s happened yet, because you know what’s coming. First chance they get, those “ordinary” neighbors are going to start chewing people’s faces off.
Praise for Middle School: From Hero to Zero:A New York Times bestseller!
- Praise for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life:A #1 New York Times Bestseller
A #1 Indiebound BestsellerA 2012 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young ReadersA 2013 Hawaii's Children's Choice Award WinnerA 2013 ALSC Summer Reading List BookA 2010 Oregon Children's Choice Award WinnerA 2014 Oregon Reader's Choice Award Nomine
- * "As Patterson artfully weaves a deeper and more thought-provoking tale of childhood coping mechanisms and everyday school and family realities, readers are drawn into a deeper understanding of and compassion for the main characters."—School Library Journal, starred review
- "A keen appreciation of kids' insecurities and an even more astute understanding of what might propel boy readers through a book.... a perfectly pitched novel."—Los Angeles Times
- "Cleverly delves into the events that make middle school so awkward: cranky bus drivers, tardy slips, bathroom passes and lots of rules.... Hopefully, this isn't the last we hear from Rafe Khatchadorian."—The Associated Press
- "It's a chatty, funny, engaging book.... filled with energetic cartoons... that will appeal to your little rebel, depicting teachers as dungeon-keepers, matadors and flying dragons. Patterson... knows how to structure a plot and builds in some surprising--even touching--twists.... Rafe is the bad boy with a heart of gold."—New York Times
- "The book's... dynamic artwork and message that 'normal is boring' should go a long way toward assuring kids who don't fit the mold that there's a place for them, too."—Publishers Weekly
- "Incredibly detailed and imaginative illustrations... add depth and humor.... an enjoyable story that even the most reluctant readers should enjoy."—Library Media Connection
- "There is substance as well as appeal here.... Patterson deftly manages the pace of revelations that take readers deeper into Rafe's fragile trust.... Readers ready for something else in the same vein but more substantive than Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Peirce's Big Nate should be introduced to Rafe."—The Bulletin
- On Sale
- Mar 5, 2018
- Hachette Audio
- Praise for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life: