Middle School: Just My Rotten Luck


By James Patterson

By Chris Tebbetts

Illustrated by Laura Park

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TOUCHDOWN! James Patterson will have kids busting out laughing as they follow lovable bad-boy Rafe’s struggles to score big on the field-and in the social scene!

In this seventh Middle School episode, Rafe heads back to the place his misadventures began: the dreaded Hills Village Middle School, where he’s now being forced to take “special” classes. He also finds himself joining the school’s football team-alongside his main tormenter, Miller the Killer! But Rafe has grand plans for a better year: First, he decides to start a super-secret art project that’s sure to rock the school. Then, if Rafe manages to make a play to save his team, he might have to deal with something completely new: popularity!


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Table of Contents

A Sneak Peek of Public School Superhero

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Miller the Killer grew six inches over the summer.

• He's forcing me to join the school football team.

• Jeanne Galletta thinks I'm a total jerk.

• The cafeteria ladies are back with their mystery meat.

• I'm in a "special" class that nobody wants to be in.



Ever since I've known you—how long has it been now?—I've been getting my butt kicked in about a hundred different ways. Well, the butt-kicking officially stops here.

On this page.

Before the next period

That's why this could be my best story yet. I've got a ton of stuff to tell you about. More than ever, in fact. For a while, I thought maybe I'd call this book The Butt-Kick Stops Here. Or maybe Look at Me, I'm Special. Or First Kiss. Or Rafe Khatchadorian: Secret Agent Artist.

But I didn't call it any of those things. In case you haven't already noticed, I called this one Just My Rotten Luck.

And even though that doesn't sound like the happy-go-luckiest title you've ever heard of (with plenty of good reason), there's a lot that happens in this book that's pretty awesome.

Like me being a football hero.

Yeah, yeah. I know football and Rafe Khatchadorian don't exactly go together like ham and eggs. But that really was me, hitting the field for the Hills Village Middle School Falcons. It really did happen.

Really, really.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this story is going to be all about touchdowns and cheerleaders screaming my name. (Obviously. I mean, have you seen what I look like?)

I'm just saying… well, you know what? Maybe I should start at the beginning. And for that to happen, we have to go back in time a little bit. And that means I'm going to need a good old-fashioned flashback. Then a flash-forward, and then who knows what else after that.

So buckle up, people. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

All set? Good.

Here comes the flashback!


Welcome to THE PAST! Don't worry, we didn't go that far. Just three weeks earlier, to be exact.

I was at the tail end of a pretty lousy summer, which is supposed to be the best time of the year for most kids. Me, not so much. Camp Wannamorra had been a disaster, and my time at The Program in the Rocky Mountains just about killed me in six different ways. (Well, okay, just one way, but still…)

None of that was the worst part, though. That happened on the Friday before school started, when Mom took me to Hills Village Middle School. We had a meeting scheduled with Mrs. Stricker and Mrs. Stonecase so I could get re-enrolled there.

You remember Mrs. Stricker, right? And Mrs. Stonecase too? They're the principal and vice principal of HVMS. They're also sisters—for real. That's like getting twice the trouble for half the price. Not to mention, if there was a Worldwide Khatchadorian Haters Club, they'd be the president and vice president.

So anyway, as soon as I was stuck inside that lion's den (I mean, sitting down in Mrs. Stricker's office), I got a two-ton piece of bad news dropped on my head.

"If Rafe wishes to come back to Hills Village Middle School this fall," Mrs. Stricker said to my mom, "he'll have to be enrolled as a special needs student."

And I was like, "Say WHAT?"

But Stricker wasn't done. She kept going, like a tidal wave of meanness that just couldn't be stopped. "Whether he'll finish middle school on time or have to put in an extra semester or two—or more—well, we just can't say at this point," she told us.

And then I was like, "Say WHAAAAAAT???"

I don't know what they call it at your school. IEP. SPED. Special Education. Barnum & Bailey's Three-Ring Circus. At HVMS, the kids have plenty of names for it—just not ones they say when any teachers are around.

And now I was in it.

I tried to talk Stricker, Stonecase, and even Mom out of making this horrible mistake, but they wouldn't budge. Mom wasn't being mean about it or anything. I know she wants what's best for me. She just said I should give it a try.

"We'll see how things go once the school year starts," she said. "Who knows, maybe you'll even like it."

Which is such a MOM thing to say.

In the meantime, if you're thinking this story is all about bad news, don't worry. Some cool stuff happens too, like that first kiss, and some other things I haven't even told you about yet.

But so far? My school year was off to the worst start ever.

And it hadn't even started yet.


Christmas is special.

Finding a dollar on the ground is special.

Personal pan pizzas with double pepperoni are special.

But getting put in a "special needs" program with "special" classes and no guarantee of getting through middle school anytime especially soon?

Not so special.

Before we left school that day, Mom and I had a meeting with my new "Learning Skills" teacher, Mr. Edward Fanucci. It's pronounced fuh-noochy, and sounds to me like something you'd eat with tomato sauce.

"Rafe, welcome back to HVMS," he said. "I'm glad we'll be working together this year. And it's Jules, is that right, Mrs. Khatchadorian?"

"Jules is fine," Mom said.

Mr. Fanucci recognized Mom from the diner where she works—Swifty's over on Montgomery Boulevard. She even remembered that he liked his cheeseburgers well done and sat by himself at the counter for breakfast every Sunday morning.

In fact, the two of them were having a great old time talking about cheeseburgers while I sat there thinking about how miserable my life was about to get.

What did all this mean, exactly? Was I just plain dumb? Could I have gotten out of it if I'd paid more attention in school? If I'd eaten more veggies when my mom told me to? If I didn't have an imaginary friend who I used to talk to all the time?

If I wasn't so weird?

"Okay, Rafe," Mr. Fanucci finally said, "we need to review your IEP. Then I'll let you go, and you can start enjoying the last few days of your summer vacation."

I wanted to ask how he thought I could enjoy anything with this hanging over my head, but I didn't say a word. I just thought, NONONONO NONONONO!

Supposedly, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. But if you ask me, it was more like In Extreme Pain.

I guess Mr. Fanucci could tell I was about as excited as a kid in the dentist's chair, because he started getting all buddy-buddy with me.

"Believe it or not, you're going to be glad for this program," he said. "It's going to help you do better than ever in school, like getting some extra gas in the tank. You'll take most of your classes with everyone else and work with me on your assignments. Three times a week, we'll have our Learning Skills group, with some kids like you who need extra help."

"Kids like me?" I said.

"Yeah," he said. "Kids who learn differently."

Which was just another way of saying SPECIALS. Dummies. Rejects. Weirdos. Freaks.

You know—kids like me.


You know how I said that day was the worst part of my whole summer? Well, hold on, because the day wasn't over yet.

While Mom was talking to Mr. Fanucci some more, I asked if I could wait out in the parking lot. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to see me hanging around the office and start asking questions.

So there I was, sitting on the bumper of our car and wondering what kind of job a middle school dropout could get (answer: NONE), when my day got a little worse. And by "a little worse," I mean a lot worse.

"Yo! KhatchaDORKian!" said a familiar voice.

I looked up and saw… wait for it… or maybe you can guess?

That's right. Miller the Killer.

Yup. Just my rotten luck.

He was coming my way, along with a bunch of guys from the HVMS flag football team. I guess they'd already started practice for the season, because they were all wearing their cleats and headed for the fields behind the school.

Which put me right in their path—like a rickety little straw hut in a hurricane.

When I first went to HVMS, Miller made my life about as enjoyable as a box of rabbit poo that you thought was juicy raisins. The last time we'd tangled, both of us ended up bloody. Mostly because he got my blood all over him.

So you could say we didn't exactly part ways as friends.

"What are you doing here?" Miller said. "Don't tell me you're coming back to HVMS."

"Okay," I said. "I won't tell you that."

"Wait," he said, and got that familiar, confused look on his face. "So you are coming back?" Miller isn't "special" like me, but he's not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree either.

"This is going to be good," Jeremy Savin said, and gave Bobby Davidson a fist bump. The way they were all looking at me, it was starting to feel like feeding time in the gorilla house at the zoo.

If I could have, I would have gotten out of there. But what was I going to do, snap my fingers and disappear? Tell him I had to go to the bathroom? (Actually, I did have to go to the bathroom, but that wasn't much help.)

And I couldn't tell Miller to shove it either. That would have been like sticking a piece of dynamite in my mouth and handing him a lit match.

Except then I got a lucky break. Coach Shumsky showed up at the top of the football bleachers and started yelling our way.

"Miller! Savin! Davidson!" he said. "You joining us for practice today? Or are you planning on sitting out the opening game this season?"

"Coming, Coach!" Jeremy called.

"Right away, Coach!" Miller said, like they were in the army or something. Trust me when I tell you, these guys take their flag football verrrrrry seriously. Once they get into high school, they'll play full tackle ball. In the meantime, they like to practice their tackling skills on guys like me.

"This isn't over," Miller told me, and pointed a finger right in my face. I could even smell what he'd had for lunch: bologna sandwich, spicy mustard, and grape soda.

"What's not over?" I said. "There's nothing… started."

That's when he gave me one of his Miller-sized chest thumps. If I hadn't been shoved up against Mom's bumper, I probably would have fallen flat on my butt. And it wouldn't have been the first time.

"Now it's started," he said. Then he and his gorilla goons headed off toward the field.

To be honest, I've never understood why Miller hates me so much. The only reason I hate him is because… well, because he hates me. I know I should have kept my mouth shut at that point. Obviously. But I'm not always so good at should.

"Hey, Miller!" I said. "What's your problem, anyway? What have you got against me?"

Miller just looked back at me once, shrugged, and kept on walking.

"Soon as I remember, you'll be the first to know," he said. "See you in school, buttwipe."

Yeah. That's exactly what I was afraid of.


When we got home, Grandma Dotty was making a big batch of Dotty's Meatballs for dinner. My grandmother and my mom can both cook like crazy, which is great because I can usually eat like crazy.

But not today. For once in my life, I wasn't hungry, even if the whole house did smell like one giant, delicious meatball.

"How did it go, kiddo?" Dotty asked.

"I don't want to talk about it," I said.

"Why?" my sister, Georgia, asked. "What happened?"

Anytime Georgia gets a whiff of bad news that has anything to do with me, it's like she turns into a bloodhound. She won't stop until she's hunted it down.

"I said I don't want to talk about it!" I told her. "Especially not to you."

"Me? What did I do?" she said, but I was already heading for my room.

Still, Georgia wouldn't quit.

"What happened?" I heard her asking Mom. "Is Rafe in trouble? Why is he so mad? What did Mrs. Stricker say?"

And that's when I exploded.

"SHUT UP!" I yelled all the way down the hall. "FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE, JUST SHUT YOUR STUPID NOSY MOUTH!"

Mom didn't even make me come back and apologize. The last thing I heard before I slammed my door was Georgia saying, "Nosy mouth? That doesn't even make sense."

Mom just said, "Let him cool off for a while. It looks like Rafe's had a hard day."

The truth is, my little sister was the last person I wanted to talk to about this. Georgia isn't that far behind me in middle school, and she's a total brain. So what would happen if she skipped a grade? Or if I kept blowing it the way I'd been blowing it?

It was actually possible that Georgia could wind up in the same grade as me! Or worse… MUCH WORSE… what if my little sister got out of middle school before I did???

So no, I did not feel like explaining to Georgia what had happened at HVMS.

And I didn't feel like eating.

And I definitely didn't feel like starting school that Monday.

Not only was I "special" now, but I was right back where I started with Miller too. It wouldn't be long before he found out about me being in the Learning Skills class. And I couldn't even think about what might happen then.

Mom's always telling me "Normal is boring," and that I'm an artist, and that I have all my own special talents, and blah-blah-blah. But none of that had gotten me anywhere except the reject pile with a bunch of other kids like me.

Whatever that meant.

The more I thought about it, the madder I got. I wanted to hit something. I wanted to break something. I wanted to go all rock star on my room and trash the whole place.

But I didn't. I just stayed put and did the one thing that makes me feel better when I'm stressed out. The one thing I'm halfway decent at.

I picked up my sketchbook and started to draw.


That night was the first time I put any of my Loozer comics up online. Usually, I kept them to myself. But I guess I just felt like my art was the one thing I could do pretty well. The one thing that didn't make me feel so special, if you know what I mean.

I posted them on Art-Gunk.com, which is this random comics site I learned about when I went to art school in the big city. People could check out my stuff and make comments—good or bad. I didn't even use my real name. I said they were by some guy named R. K. Whatchamacallit, so no one would know who I was. I didn't think anyone at HVMS had even heard of Art-Gunk.com, much less cared about stuff like that.

But yeah, I know what you're thinking. Leo might not be real (more on him later), but how could I post a bunch of comics with a character called Loozer who looks like me and NOT think something bad was going to happen?

Well, I'll tell you the answer to that question right now.

And the answer is, I HAVE NO IDEA. I'm not exactly a world champion when it comes to looking before I leap.

So basically, without even knowing it, I'd started the clock on a brand-new time bomb, just waiting to go off. The only question was—when?


Okay, FLASH FORWARD! (You keeping up with me here?)

The first day of school was exactly what I expected—terrible.

Mrs. Stricker was standing by the front doors when I got there, yelling at everyone to go straight to homeroom. I think she threw up in her mouth a little when she saw me.

Of course, Mrs. Stonecase was standing right next to her. They're like the Twins of Terror, except they're not twins. Sisters of Suffering? Siblings of Sorrow? Family of Fe—


"Okay, okay," I muttered as I went in.

I also saw the super-crush of my life, Jeanne Galletta, in the hall. When she asked me how it was going, I said, "Fine." She said, "Good." Then she left to talk to her stupid boyfriend, Jared "Perfect" McCall. For all the stuff he's so good at, I sure wish he was better at going to someone else's school.

I saw Miller the Killer too, but I don't think he saw me. It probably helped that I held my backpack up in front of my head when I walked by his usual hangout spot.

And all that was before I even got to first period!

My first three classes were English, math, and science. They piled on the homework too. Mr.Fanucci said I was supposed to bring all my assignments to Learning Skills, which was fourth period.

So while everyone else was taking World Languages or Computer Technology, I was heading down to the resource room in the library to find out who else was "special" like me.

I guess Mr. Fanucci works with different kids every period. There were only five of us in my group, which meant I couldn't exactly hide in the back. But it also means it won't take you very long to meet them.

This is Maya Lee. She has something nice to say about everything and everyone, all the time. Seriously. I'm not complaining, exactly, but after a while it's like, "Yeah, okay, I get it, Maya. You really like my pen. And my chair. And the way my shoelaces look." But at least she's nice.

Plus, she always brings homemade cookies for our group on Fridays. So I'm not complaining.


On Sale
Jun 22, 2015
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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Chris Tebbetts

About the Author

James Patterson has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer, ever, according to Guinness World Records. Since his first novel won the Edgar Award in 1977 James Patterson’s books have sold more than 300 million copies. He is the author of the Alex Cross novels, the most popular detective series of the past twenty-five years, including Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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Laura Park

About the Illustrator

Laura Park is a cartoonist and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the Best American Comics, The Anthology of Graphic Fiction, The Paris Review, and on Saveur.com. Park is also the illustrator for two middle-grade kids’ book series written by James Patterson, Middle School and I Funny. She is a member of the jam comics collective Trubble Club. Park currently lives in Lanas, France.

Learn more about this illustrator