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BOOK REVIEW: From Hero to Zero – Middle School by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park

| 27 September 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: From Hero to Zero – Middle School by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park

Penguin Random House
March 2018
Paperback, $15.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction / Children’s Fiction / School Stories

5/10

James Patterson is a number one, best-selling author of thriller books. He also writes for children and his Middle School series has been made into a feature film. The latest instalment of the latter sees Patterson team-up with Chris Tebbetts for the writing. Our anti-hero travels to London and what ensues is a pleasant-enough story at times but also one that leaves readers expecting more given the author’s pedigree and the fact that it’s such a fun idea in theory.

Hi, everyone. It’s me, Rafe! I don’t have a lot of time, because in about five minutes I have to get in the car…to go to the airport…to get on a plane…to fly to London.
Yes that London. The big one in England. It’s a school trip and we’re going to be seeing all kinds of Englishy stuff, like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the modern art museum and the London Eye, which is like a Ferris wheel made out of space stations on steroids. I’m crazy excited!

Rafe Khatchadorian is once again at the centre of the Middle School universe. He has previously travelled to our fine country but this time around it’s all about merry ol’ England. There is a chapter set during the long plane ride. This includes some predictable, gross-out humour involving air sickness. This could appeal to the young, reluctant readers (aged 9 to 11, which this story is aimed at) who may enjoy this kind of thing. But this chapter – like most of the book – doesn’t actually feature all that many jokes. In fact, most of the humour seems to come courtesy of the fun illustrations by Laura Park.

Three more people had gone down the spew highway by then, and the whole plane smelled pretty much like you’d expect. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a giant sealed metal tub with a bunch of people losing their chicken-or-fish lunch, but let’s just say the air wasn’t so fresh anymore. Even the passengers who didn’t know me were looking my way like I deserved to go to jail.

Khatchadorian’s class has travelled to London in order to participate in a competition (lucky kids). For some strange reason, Khatchadorian – a child who by his own admission is despised by the principal – is assigned the job of project editor by the headmistress. This is despite the fact there are other pupils who would be better suited for the role. Fortunately for him, Jeanne – AKA the girl Khatchadorian has a huge crush on – is an excellent editor. She winds up doing all of the work behind-the-scenes for him for no credit. This sends a pretty a terrible message to young girls.

This story also features a bully named Killer Miller. He winds up being Khatchadorian’s roommate and forces the boy to sleep in the bath even though the room has a perfectly good second bed. This novel suffers from some poor characterisation. Some characters feel like flimsy, cardboard cut-outs (see Jeanne) while Miller is too exaggerated and clichéd for his own good. At times he is like an over-the-top gangster, even though he is supposed to be around the same age as the other middle school kids. Even Rafe requires a suspension of disbelief at times due to some of the things he says. It’s hard to imagine a pre-teen saying anything that even vaguely resembles the following exchange:

“Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello!” Leo said as soon as I thought of him.
“Hang on. You’re not going to speak in an English accent the whole time, are you?” I asked.
“Why not, guv’nah?” he said. “It’s bloomin’ England!”
“Well for one thing, not everyone talks that way here,” I said. “And for another—hello? I could use a little non-accented help. I’m three thousand miles from home, I’ve got the world’s toughest school assignment, everyone’s mad at me, and I have a psycho killer for a roommate.”

The above is supposed to be between Rafe and his imaginary friend who doubles as his deceased brother. But despite this, the conversation feels stilted and forced. This novel features short, sharp chapters which are synonymous with Patterson’s writing style. Like the main protagonist in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Khatchadorian is a pre-teen who is struggling to fit in with his peers. In From Hero to Zero this takes place in a foreign land. It’s nice to see the name-dropping of famous London landmarks but just like the issues with the characterisation, there are also problems with its rendering. In short, you don’t feel as though you are fully immersed in this wonderfully vibrant city.

The London Eye was like an enormous Ferris wheel, but instead of benches it had big see-through pod-things. I didn’t know if getting way up there in those glass pods was going to be like standing inside a tall building, which I could deal with. Or maybe it was going to be more like hanging off the edge of a cliff, which I definitely couldn’t.

From Hero to Zero- Middle School feels as though it is an adult attempting to tell a children’s story and it misses the mark. This field trip – which could have been filled with great jokes and interesting commentary from this exciting location – ultimately feels flat and hollow. It feels like the equivalent of eating just the baked beans from an English breakfast; it’s easy to consume but you will be left wishing they’d included those other tasty elements, which should have come with it.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her websites are: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com and www.myshitdate.com

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