A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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 goodbye 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?
This 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 Ali Benjamin's 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 what the role of the fool was 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 and comfortable and already know everything you need to know?
- Author: Ali Benjamin
- Genre: School
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date: April 16, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: December 10, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.