Rafe Khatchadorian barely survived the sixth grade, but with the help of his teacher, he was accepted to Airbrook Arts Community School. Life is looking up, and Rafe anticipates expanding his art talents. But then disaster strikes. Rafe's mom loses her job and is forced to move to the big city and live with Grandma Dotty. It's not an ideal situation because Grandma Dotty's house is small and crowded, forcing Rafe to sleep on the living room sofa. Rafe's mom searches for a new job, but she isn't having any luck. Fortunately, Rafe is accepted to a different art school, where he meets Matty the Freak, who becomes his first real live friend.
Then comes Rafe's first art assignment critique, where the students hang their artwork in front of the entire class for everyone's comments. It doesn't go well, and Rafe gains a new enemy. But according to his teacher, art and life are very interconnected, and Rafe decides that in order to improve his art, he needs to expand his experiences. So he creates a brand new mission. Operation "Get A Life" challenges Rafe to discover 195 new experiences in 195 days, the number of days he has until the big spring art show at school. He has a lot of work ahead of him in order to accomplish his goal, and Matty the Freak is there for him.
Matty also proves to be a big help when Rafe decides to track down information on his father, whom he hasn't seen since he was little. However, Grandma Dotty has some photos, and Rafe utilizes his detective skills to crack the case. Of course, experiencing life isn't all about good stuff. Unfortunately, the combination of Rafe's active imagination, his mission, and Matty the Freak land him in trouble over and over again. Not only will Rafe's imagination have to work overtime in order to accomplish his goal and track down his dad, it will need to come up with ways to endure the many punishments he finds himself earning along the way. But Rafe is ready for the challenge.
With constant action and high energy, nonstop comedy, and zillions of funny drawings, this is a perfect series for both reluctant and adamant readers. Authors James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, along with illustrator Laura Park, even add in a bit of mystery as Rafe tries to track down information on his missing father. Kids will relate to and bond with Rafe, who is hilariously funny but has trouble making friends and often gets into massive trouble thanks to his incredible imagination. Rafe has a good heart, though, and he exposes it in his search to experience life to the fullest. Fans will be thrilled to learn that a third Middle School adventure is in the works.
Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on June 1, 2012