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Literature / Middle School

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Rafael "Rafe" Khatchadorian is an imaginative kid starting middle school. At a school assembly going over the rules, his friend Leo gives him an idea: break every rule in the school rule book. They make a system of 'points' for each rule broken, and the game starts to escalate. This book by James Patterson was published in 2011, while a film adaptation was released in 2016.

This book and its 2016 movie adaptation contain examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Rafe's English teacher Ms. Donatello does not appear in the movie with Mr. Teller taking her role as the cool teacher Rafe actually likes.
  • Adaptational Comic Relief: While Carl is a terrible, abusive boyfriend/stepfather in both the book and the movie, he is a serious and relatively realistic portrayal of an abuser in the book. The movie makes him more of a comical jerk. He's still an egotistical bully, but most of his actions are Played for Laughs. Notably, his cruelest action in the book (hitting Rafe's mom in a fit of rage) is omitted from the movie.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Downplayed with Vice Principal Stricker; While Stricker is not shown to be nice, she is lot less malicious towards Rafe than in the books.
  • Adaptational Species Change: Downplayed. All the characters are human, but Rafe's imaginary version of Principal Dwight changes between the books and the movie. In the books, Rafe imagines him as the "Lizard King," an anthropomorphic lizard. In the film, Rafe imagines him as a (human) zombie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the books, Principal Dwight appears to be a generic school principal, while in the movie he is a full on tyrant who runs the school with an iron fist.
  • Age Lift: For the movie adaptation, Leo is Rafe's younger brother by a year instead of being his twin, perhaps to better help hide the twist.
  • Animal Motif: Carl is nicknamed Bear by the kids, and is often depicted as such during the drawn segments.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rafe's younger sister, Georgia. He describes her as "my super-nosy, super-obnoxious, super-brat sister".
  • Art Shift: Near the end is a chapter told entirely in comic strip form.
    • In the 2016 movie adaptation, it shifts from live-action to animated when Rafe's imagination takes over.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: In the film adaptation, one of Rafe's pranks involves converting the school's trophy case into a saltwater aquarium, with several fish, an eel, and other sea life, in one night. There are multiple factors that would make this downright impossible in one night. First of all, Rafe would have to seal the trophy case, which isn't made to hold water. Then, he would have to go through the process of cycling the aquarium's water to keep it stable and keep the animals alive, which takes about four to eight weeks.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: In the movie, when Georgia tells Rafe that Bear wants to ship him off to military school, she wants him to promise to stop sneaking out and breaking rules. Rafe proves that he truly cares for his little sister by making the promise.
    Georgia: Thanks, Dork.
    Rafe: Yeah, whatever loser.
  • Bathroom Control: Principal Dwight has made up some new rules after Rafe had secretly made the trophy display case into an aquarium. One of them is "No going to the bathrooms", the bathrooms in the school shall remain locked all day.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Gus, Principal Dwight's Latin-American janitor/handyman, doesn't want to cater to the principal's orders. Eventually, his being forced to plant the prank evidence in Mr. Teller's kids' lockers causes him to join in Rafe's plan to get revenge on Dwight and bring him to justice.
  • Big Bad: Principal Dwight in the film tryanically rules the school, setting up new, stricter rules after the previous ones are broken and planting fake evidence in Mr. Teller's students' lockers to boost overall scores for the B.L.A.A.R.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: In the book Rafe deals with Vice Principal Stricker, Miller, Ms. Donatello, and Bear who serve as rivals to Rafe.
  • Blackmail: Miller takes Rafe's notebook detailing his rule-breaking plans, and demands a price in exchange for returning it.
  • The Bully: Miller pushes kids around for his own amusement.
  • Character Catchphrase: "Normal is boring!" is a mantra Leo repeats often. Turns out he got it from Jules.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Teller tries to be one, but he comes up short numerous times. He eventually ends up succeeding by calling in the superintendent and filing a formal complaint while explaining why excessive standardized tests are a terrible idea.
  • Copycat Mockery: Leo impersonates Principal Dwight behind his back while meeting Rafe for the first time.
  • Creator Cameo: James Patterson, the book's author, cameos in the movie as the restaurant manager.
  • Curse Cut Short: Two of them included in the movie:
    • The first one is when Leo was making a chant to encourage breaking all the rules.
      Leo: We don't give a... (beat) What rhymes with suck?
      Rafe: Nothing good.
    • When the principle decides to disband all clubs, including the A/V Club:
      Jeanne: Oh sh- *cuts to color test screen*
  • Dance Party Ending: The film ends with Rafe's drawings having a dance party in the UFO that symbolizes Rafe coming to terms with Leo's death.
  • Dead All Along: Leo was actually Rafe's twin brother, who died years earlier. Rafe pretended he was still around and Leo became an Imaginary Friend.
  • Delinquent: Rafe makes a plan to break every school rule in increasingly huge ways.
  • The Dragon: Ida serves as the assistant to Principal Dwight in the movie.
  • Expelled from Every Other School: Rafe mentions he was expelled from two schools the previous semester, and Hills Village is the last one that would take him.
  • Exploding Closet: In the movie, the assistant principal opens a faculty closet only to get buried by thousands of ball pit balls.
  • Heroic Vow: Rafe makes a vow that no one else will be hurt by his plan.
  • High-School Hustler: Rafe aspires to be a middle school example. He sells soda from his locker, even though no sugary drinks are allowed at school. This is cut out from the movie.
  • Hypocrite: Principal Dwight, who resides over the school with an iron fist administering hundreds of rules while bending them himself to get the B.L.A.A.R. bonus. Rafe namedrops this while calling him out on this in the climax.
  • I Made Copies: After Rafe buys his notebook back from Miller, Miller sends a copy to Rafe's parents.
  • Imaginary Friend: Leo was actually imaginary the whole time. The real Leo died before the story began.
  • In Medias Res: The book starts with Leo, Rafe, and Georgia in the back of a police car. Then Rafe explains how they got there.
  • Jerkass:
    • Bear, who mooches off Jules and pretends to care about her kids (and drives a BMW 320i like he owns it when he doesn't).
    • Principal Dwight, a selfish Dean Bitterman who doesn't care about art and wants to make his students' lives as miserable as possible.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For everything he puts Rafe and the students through, Principal Dwight gets his just desserts when the superintendent fires him and Ida, with them set to be taken to court for their manipulation of the B.L.A.A.R..
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Leo being an imaginary friend based on Rafe's deceased brother is brought up in some of the later books in the series.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: One of the ways Rafe and Leo mess with the school bell in the movie is to have it fizzle out with a fart sound.
  • Middle School Is Miserable: Rafe doesn't like Middle school. So he and his friend Leo decided to break the rules for fun.
  • New Kid Stigma: In the movie adaptation, Rafe is the victim of a bully at his new school very early on, and he only has two friends (one of them being... not alive). The main antagonist, their principal, is especially cruel to Rafe because he doesn't want the other students to get any bright ideas from him.
  • Noodle Incident: In the beginning of the movie, Georgia mentions that Rafe has been expelled from two schools. Nobody knows how Rafe got expelled, maybe he pulled too many pranks.
  • Race Lift:
    • In the book Vice principal Stricker appears to be white, while she's black in the movie.
    • The blonde haired and white Jeanne Galletta is played by the brunette Peruvian-American Isabela Merced.
  • Retronym: In the movie, Rafe's first prank is to cover the school with post-it notes. One of the main messages was "Rules Aren't For Everyone", which spells out Rafe's name. He addresses it later as a clue to him being the prankster.
  • Spoiled by the Format: In-Universe example, Lampshaded near the end of the book.
    You're not stupid. There are obviously still some pages left in this book. It's like when the guy in the movie goes off a cliff, and you're supposed to think he's dead, but you also know it can't be over yet.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Rafe frequently retells his experiences in an imaginative way. He describes detention and the principal's office as prison or a dank cave with a Lizard King, before the scene cuts back to what actually happened (e.g., the principal lecturing him).
  • Uranus Is Showing: From the movie:
    Uranus is down. Miller, stop trying to stab Uranus!
  • Video-Game Lives: Leo assigns Rafe three "lives" to make the rule-breaking game harder. If Rafe doesn't succeed in one of the challenges, he loses a life.
  • Wham Line: Rafe's best friend Leo has been helping him throughout the story. Then they get into an argument, which reveals something about Leo that the other characters already knew.
    Rafe: You shut up! You're not even real!
    • After Rafe is expelled in the book, Jules says she named her children after famous artists, and also reveals an even bigger twist.
    Jules: And Rafe also had a twin brother. His name was Leonardo.

Alternative Title(s): Middle School The Worst Years Of My Life