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The Next Great Paulie Fink

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Next Great Paulie Fink Book Poster Image
Funny, touching, thought-provoking middle-school story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of information about the language, culture, myths, gods, events, and people of ancient Greece. Shakespeare as a master of insults, and what the role of the Shakespearean Fool is really about. Some facts about goats. Brief mention of women who made history and in what way. Invites thought about different types of narration and story telling. Author's note has resources for further exploration of Plato, philosophy, Homer, and more.

Positive Messages

Venture out of your cave, which represents your comfort zone or the way you've always looked at the world; find new ways of looking at and thinking about yourself, your world, and everything in it. Always want to learn and be open to new things:

Try to know more today than you did yesterday. Sometimes people get bogged down in their own worries and fears, and being mean is one way people get themselves unstuck from all that. Sometimes people do crummy things they wish they could take back. But since you can't change the past, you have to find a way to live with what you've done, like maybe apologizing and doing better going forward.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Caitlyn isn't always nice, although she thinks of herself as a nice person. Last year in sixth grade, she was downright mean to a classmate, calling her names, openly laughing at her, and verbally harassing her. Now that she's the new kid in school, she's developed some empathy, tries to understand why she acted the way she did, and finds the courage she needs to try to change. Her new classmates are unique personalities who model accepting one another as they are and working together. Teachers and Caitlyn's mom are all positive models of supportive, understanding adults.

Violence & Scariness

Brief mention that zombies eat brains; a couple of characters play-act with each other as lots of different animals and creatures, including zombies and werewolves.

Language

"Hell," "pee," "butt," "pooped," "boogers." Calling names in the past like "dork."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Next Great Paulie Fink is by Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish). It's about Caitlyn, a new girl in a small, eccentric seventh-grade class at a rural school. Body-part humor and language includes one "hell," and rare instances of "butt," "pee," and "pooped." The story invites thought about what a hero is, how we know about the past, whether it matters that we can't know everything about the past, the different ways we have of telling stories, and lots more. Readers will learn a lot about ancient Greece, especially philosophy. Caitlyn becomes a good role model as she learns surprising things about herself, why she was mean in the past, and how to be brave enough to try to change.

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What's the story?

In THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK, Caitlyn has to start seventh grade at a new school, in a new state, thanks to her mom's new job. This new school is tiny; there are only 11 kids in Caitlyn's whole grade. But shockingly absent from seventh grade this year is Paulie Fink, who left without saying good-bye or where he was going. Depending on who you ask, Paulie Fink was a hero, a disruptor, an evil genius, or a million things in between. The more Caitlyn learns about Paulie Fink, the more she learns about herself, what she's capable of, and maybe even why she did some things that weren't very nice. On a mission to find out which of her classmates can fill Paulie's shoes, Caitlyn also learns more than she ever thought she could about goats, Greeks, and kindergartners. But will she ever really know the real Paulie Fink?

Is it any good?

Author Ali Benjamin's second novel is an enjoyable balance of funny hijinks; quirky, colorful characters, and a genuine exploration of heroes, stories, courage, and fitting in. The Next Great Paulie Fink is more lighthearted and less lyrical than her first book, The Thing About Jellyfish, but it does have moments that are genuinely touching. Tweens will relate to Caitlyn's need to fit in, and her struggles to understand the strange, new world in which she suddenly finds herself.

Although there's very little content of concern, parents and guardians may want to read along with, or even read aloud to, readers on the younger side to help them grapple with big ideas like Plato's cave analogy, what a scapegoat really is, and the role of the Fool was really about in Shakespeare. Readers of all ages are invited to think about what we know, how we know it, how we tell what we know, whether we can completely understand people and events from the past, and lots more. The satisfying ending will have readers cheering, and maybe even shedding a tear or two.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about heroes in The Next Great Paulie Fink. Was the first Paulie Fink a hero? What makes someone a hero? Are any other characters in the book heroes, too?

  • What are some of the different ways Paulie Fink's story and Caitlyn's story are told? How do those different ways affect what we learn about the characters and events?

  • If you found out you'd been living in a cave your whole life, seeing only shadows instead of everything real outside the cave, do you think you'd want to venture out? Or would you rather stay in where you're warm, comfortable, and already know everything you need to know?

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For kids who love middle-school stories and coming-of-age tales

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