Save Rafe by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
Laura Park. Young Arrow, 2014. ISBN 9780099596424
(Age: Yr 4+) It is literally the stuff of nightmares. Rafe Katchadorian thought he would be going to Airbrook Arts School when the new school year starts but over the summer vacation it has closed down and he has to return to Hills Village Middle School - from where he has already been expelled. Even worse, Vice Principal Stricker has been promoted to principal and her sister is now the deputy, and neither of them like Rafe. They have determined that before he will be readmitted to HVMS he will have to succeed on The Program, which turns out to be a week-long rugged outdoors camp in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
So 4.00am the next morning sees the whole family on the road to Base Camp, arriving with just two minutes to spare and attracting the wrath of Sergeant Fish (who is the epitome of the stereotypical bellowing, tough sergeant-major.) Not an auspicious start. Rafe, as well as the other seven students who have been assigned to The Program, discover that this is no ordinary camp and they will have to work as individuals as well as a team to overcome obstacles designed to test their resilience, persistence and determination so they can earn sufficient tags to maintain their place in the program. The first obstacle is climbing a tower to get the food for that night's supper.
This is a fast-paced book that has the reader willing Rafe on, telling him not to quit and hoping that he can see the reasons behind The Program as clearly. In it Rafe learns a lot about himself although even when he is required to write a letter to himself about what he sees his life as being a year from now he has difficulty in articulating it in words. Drawing is his talent. But you know that he has internalised much and when he does return to HVMS and discovers Stricker and Stonecase have yet another hurdle for him, he will be able to take it on with greater confidence and self-belief.
Whether writing for adults or children, James Patterson crafts a great story drawing characters that come off the page and compel the reader to continue reading to find out what happens to them. Like many troubled kids, Rafe has a backstory of insecurity and self-doubt that he masks with his troublemaker persona, a kind of get-them-before-they-get-me attitude that comes to the fore through his Loozer and Leo comics that he draws because he can't articulate his feelings. He has little belief in his expectations to succeed but this is turned around in this book as he is driven by his desire not to disappoint his mother.
Lavishly illustrated with graphics that are an integral part of the events and Rafe's story, this could almost be considered a graphic novel so it will appeal to those boys who are reluctant readers. This is the 6th in this series that has captured the imaginations of boys in that Yr 4+ audience who are starting to be more independent, see girls as a likeable species, and are starting to feel the awkwardness of adolescence. It is the series to be seen reading!