James Patterson (text), Martin Chatterton (illus.), Million-Dollar Mess Down Under (Middle School #9), Random House Australia, 31 July 2017, 272pp., $15.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780143784937
Rafe Khatchadorian is the narrator and protagonist of the Middle School series, of which this is the ninth book. He has an eye for art, a hyperactive imagination and a talent for chaos. In this hilarious roller-coaster ride of a story, Rafe is the sole heir of a great-uncle he never knew and stands to inherit a house worth a million dollars – if he can survive a minimum of two months living in the house and attending St Mungo’s school. This is nowhere near as possible as it sounds since the house is a complete dump, the school uniform is so ridiculous there are tassels on the socks, and every teacher but one has a passion for enforcing the extraordinarily high number of school rules, none of which Rafe knows – meaning he is constantly in trouble. Plus Rafe has to move to Sydney, where the house is located, from his home in America, for the duration.
Rafe is an engaging, hilarious narrator. He frequently breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the reader as if to a friend. He is very open about the awkward and embarrassing situations he finds himself in, with a keen eye for the ridiculous and a slight tendency towards over-exaggeration. This allows for some crazy images amongst the many illustrations, such as when he is suspended over a pit of lava. The story moves at a rip-roaring pace, with ever-expanding complications as Rafe tries to make new friends, learn about Australian culture, survive learning to play rugby, and recover his artistic mojo. Along the way he ends up saving a roller-derby rink, putting bull ants down the budgie smugglers of the principal, and uncovering art fraud.
There is a strong female character in Rafe’s new friend Kasey, who loves roller-derby. The book has plenty of humour, particularly in Rafe’s tendency to go off on highly imaginative, but completely inaccurate, tangents. Different layouts and images make for a dynamic read. Although it’s fairly long, with so much to offer, Million-Dollar Mess will keep readers eagerly reading, then looking forward to Rafe’s next adventure – and there’s a sneak peak of this at the end of the book.
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol