Who Will Be the Next Great Paulie Fink?
Ali Benjamin’s The Next Great Paulie Fink is an inspirational story about finding your place in an unfamiliar community and learning that normal is not always better. This novel follows Caitlyn Breen, who is an average middle school student and proud of it. That is, until her life is flipped upside down by moving to the small town of Mitchell, Vermont. In Mitchell, she goes to a new school that is more than a little unconventional, which leaves her longing for her previous home.
For starters, part of her science class includes feeding goats. It turns out that the class clown, Paulie Fink, has vanished. Her classmates worship him like an idol, and they even built a statue in his honor. To replace him, Caitlyn’s classmates decide on a competition, and pick Caitlyn as a judge; although she has never even met him.
Ali Benjamin does a splendid job of making the book realistic. For instance, Caitlyn’s reaction to moving to The Middle of Nowhere, Vermont mirrors the way a lot of kids react when moving into a rural town, not cooperating until they have to. She was seriously upset and was arguing with her mother for the next day after she moved. Caitlyn also had a normal reaction to her new, weird classmates. She did not talk much to her classmates and went about her life without them.
This novel is very funny, with enough jokes to tell for three hours straight and not get bored. From the Caitlyn’s classmates’ true stories to fake ones, the characters certainly have a sense of humor.
The Next Great Paulie Fink has a classic hate the place, then love the place turn, and also includes plenty of commentary in the form of “interview” chapters (where the characters talk about what happened in the previous chapter). It is a great book for learning how to change when everything in your life is turned upside down (if you know how to read between the lines). I rate this book a five out of five stars and think it would be a good fit for ages 7 and up.