The Next Great Paulie Fink

368p. Little, Brown. Apr. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316380881.
RedReviewStarGr 5–8—Caitlyn has spent her sixth grade year learning the rules of middle school survival, and, while not attaining "silver dollar" social status, has secured a place among the other shiny "quarters." When her mother gets a new job and they move to rural Vermont, Caitlyn must reconsider everything she thought she knew, including the social hierarchy and her place in it. First of all, the Mitchell school, housed in a ramshackle old estate, resembles a haunted mansion. The kids are assigned to care for a herd of goats that are grooming their soccer field and are expected to have lunch with assigned kindergarten buddies. Secondly, there are only 11 students in the entire seventh grade and they are in no way cool. Her classmates are devastated to learn that Paulie Fink, the legendary class prankster and creator of chaos, has not returned to Mitchell and they are too distraught to welcome Caitlyn. When the kids decide to hold a reality TV–type competition for the next great Paulie Fink, Caitlyn is chosen as the logical impartial arbiter. She uses oral histories and interviews to get to know her classmates as they demythologize this larger-than-life figure and learns a great deal about her own strengths in the process. Benjamin has crafted a smart, funny, and deeply felt coming of age story that middle schoolers will relate to and find themselves ruminating on. She incorporates allegories from the ancient Greeks to examine assumptions and to question one's place in the community and in the world.
VERDICT A witty, tender, and utterly engaging modern school story that draws on the wisdom of the ages.

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