The Next Great Paulie Fink

by Ali Benjamin (2019)

An Intermediate and Middle School selection.

“We are history. This, right here, is all history ever has been: regular people living their regular lives, making things up as they go, hoping they get it right.”

That’s what Caitlyn ultimately concludes about her new school. But it takes moving from New York to Vermont and going to a quirky new school to figure that out. She’s replacing a legend – the actual Paulie Fink – a notorious prankster at her school who was really the straw that stirred the drink for his 7th grade classmates. (Everyone still talks about his elaborate “science project” banana peel caper.)

Yet Caitlyn steps up to the new role cast upon her. Her class creates a faux reality TV contest to see who can become “the next great Paulie Fink’’ and Caitlyn is the emcee. Ali Benjamin’s technique is to tell this tale through a variety of first person interviews, scripted vignettes, text and email conversations, and first person memoir accounts from Caitlyn.

“Herodotus showed that our understanding of history is never objective truth. It always depends on who does the telling. To get the full understanding of history, you need to listen to as many different voices as possible.”

Caitlyn has a fascinating Humanities teacher, Miss Magruder – Mags – who teaches them all things Roman and Greek, and ends up showing how many classical ideas still permeate our lives. Caitlyn and her classmates even get to stage a Shakespearean celebration day, premised on harvesting Shakespeare’s works for insults and sharing them riotously all day.

Caitlyn’s classmates turn out to be an interesting and likable array of characters, some of whom style themselves as Originals, but all of whom eventually take on the role of Disruptors. Caitlyn learns…

“But that’s the thing you learn from playing Underlair: You can never tell exactly who a creature is just by looking at them.”

Not that she wants to, but Caitlyn also gets to, has to, play on the little school soccer team, on a field that happens to be patrolled and mowed by…goats. Yes, it’s a quirky school, but there are object lessons to learn, not only about the care and feeding of goats. There’s even a Dance Party and a T-shirt Design Contest.

The Next Great Paulie Fink is a fun-filled, action-packed story with eccentric humor and comic lessons in friendship, understanding, daring, and teamwork. Students – and teachers – bring spirit and imagination to their time together, and they learn together, learn from books, learn from their mistakes, and learn from each other.

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