The Next Great Paulie Fink

Rating:
Author: Ali Benjamin
Genres: Middle Grade
Pub. date: Apr. 16, 2019 (read, Apr. 2019)

Happy pub day to The Next Great Paulie Fink! Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada who provided me with a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

I loved Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, The Thing About Jellyfish, and she hasn’t published anything new in several years, so I was thrilled when I saw she was publishing a second novel! Both of Benjamin’s books are middle grade and I’ll admit, when I read the plot synopsis for Paulie Fink, it didn’t appeal to me quite as much as her first book because it sounded more juvenille. But don’t let that deter you from reading this one because I ended up really liking it!

The Next Great Paulie Fink is about 7th grader, Caitlyn Breen, who is a new student at Mitchell School. Caitlyn’s mom got a new job and moved them both to rural Vermont from New York, a decision that was not very popular with Caitlyn. Her new school seems totally backwards from her old school and doesn’t seem to follow any of the social “rules” she learned in New York. The kids in her new class all seem eccentric to Caitlyn and they are caught up in the disappearance of one of their former classmates, Paulie Fink.

Paulie was the class clown and beloved by his classmates. But he doesn’t return for 7th grade and no one knows what happened to him. He leaves a void behind that the kids want to fill with a new Paulie, so they decide to have a reality show competition to find the Next Great Paulie Fink. Caitlyn’s struggles to get on board with the competition since she never knew Paulie, but her classmates convince her to judge the competition and suddenly she’s thrust into a totally new world that scares her, but challenges her.

Granted, it’s been a few years since I read The Thing about Jellyfish, but this book had quite a different tone from that book. It’s a lot funnier and it has a large cast of characters to carry the story. It’s overwhelming at first trying to keep track of Caitlyn’s classmates, but eventually they all start to develop personalities of their own, and while Caitlyn is always our central character, I really loved some of her classmates as well.

Like I said, I initially wondered if I would glean much from this book as an adult reader, or if it really was tailored for kids. But I ended up really liking it and even though the themes were younger, I still thought the author did a great job at making this a well rounded story that could be enjoyed at any age. I particularly liked how she approached bullying in this book. Moving to a new school and finding it absent of the social structure that was in her last school, Caitlyn starts reflecting on some of the interactions she had with her former classmates and how some of her actions may have been hurtful. Because her class is so small (a dozen students), and because they are so rural, her classmates are all very supportive of one another and Caitlyn initially struggles with that. She protected herself in her old school by growing a hard shell and disconnecting her emotions from those around her, and in her new school, she struggles to let herself be vulnerable and that hard shell actually creates a barrier with her new classmates.

I also really liked the author’s exploration of legends and kleos (glory). Paulie was a legend at Mitchell and in their search for the next Paulie, the students learn about kleos and what makes someone memorable or a legend. The catch is, kleos can make us forget things too. When we glorify someone, it’s easy to forget the things that made them human or the things that annoyed you about them. We later discover that Paulie was really just as human as the rest of the students, but because of the reputation he developed at Mitchell, the students started over-hyping who he was and to an extent, lost sight of the real Paulie and failed to notice the unique things that they have to offer in their quest to be more like Paulie.

I liked a lot of the secondary characters, but (no surprise I’m sure) Fiona was definitely my favourite. Fiona wears a power suit to school every single day because she wants to one day be a powerful woman. She’s not great at school and struggles to pay attention in class. But she is buoyed by her belief that “well-behaved women seldom make history”. All of the students at Mitchell had so much spunk and I loved watching a group of kids be so great at supporting one another. Was it realistic? I’m not really sure. But I think that was kind of the point. Mitchell school was doing something right – it didn’t seem like a place should exist like this, but somehow it did. When you find something special like that, it’s worth protecting, even if it challenges your worldview.

Mostly though, this book was just a lot of fun. There’s lots to make you laugh and lots to make you think. I think Caitlyn’s classmates are right in that sweet spot where they’re still children, but are about to become teenagers. Caitlyn was pushed to mature a little earlier growing up in New York, which is why she has hardened herself against the world. But these students are still idealistic and not yet jaded about the world. Overall, I loved the balance of humour and life lessons about growing up.

More 2019 Books I Can’t Wait to Read

There are so many amazing books coming out this year! I already published one blog about new releases I can’t wait to read, but there’s so many more books coming out, I had to make another list.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok – Jun. 4, 2019
Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation was one of my favourite books that I read last year, so I’m stoked to see her publishing something new! Sylvie is the accomplished older sister of the Lee family and her younger sister Amy has always looked up to her. When Sylvie disappears on a trip to the Netherlands, Amy has the opportunity to help find her, discovering along the way that her perfect sister had her own dark secrets. The synopsis calls it a ” deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing.” I live for family dramas and everything about this intrigues me!

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker – Aug. 6, 2019
I know K.A. Tucker has a million other books that I could have read after finishing (and LOVING) her latest book, The Simple Wild, but there’s something so much more exciting about a new release from an author you like. Tucker writes romance, which is not normally my cup of tea, but The Simple Wild had so much more depth than a traditional romance novel that I can’t wait to read more from this author. Say You Still Love Me is about ‘new adult’, Piper Calloway, who works as a VP at her Dad’s wealthy real estate company: cue the drama of working in a male-dominated industry with your ex-fiance! Tucker is great at writing relatable millennials and has expanded the New Adult genre, so I can’t wait to read this one.

When All is Said by Anne Griffin – Jan. 24, 2019
Good news! This book is already out! When All is Said takes place at a bar over the course of a single night as Maurice Hannigan toasts 5 influential people in his life. This book has been getting rave reviews and the idea of reflecting on those that had the most impact on your life sounds like a really compelling story. In the same way that I love a good family drama – I love character-driven stories about relationships. I’ve ordered a copy of this one from book depository and I’m just waiting for it to show up so I can dive in!

The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta – Apr. 2, 2019
Melina Marchetta is one of my all time favourite authors and I will pretty much read anything she writes. She mostly writes Young Adult, so I assumed this was a new YA book, but friends, upon closer inspection I’ve discovered that this is another New Adult book!! Two NA books on one list! That rarely happens because the genre is so underdeveloped. The Place on Dalhousie is about the house Rosie Gennaro’s father built for his family but never completed. It’s not totally clear from the synopsis, but I believe Rosie has lost both of her parents and this book is about coming to terms with that grief and learning to build a new family with the special people left in her life. I may be off with this description, but the story sounds so moving and if it was written by Melina Marchetta, it definitely will be!

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon – Mar. 1, 2019
Another book that’s already been released! I started this book recently and I’m about 50 pages in (at the time of writing this post). Amy Harmon has a lot of books, but I’ve only read her one fantasy series, The Bird and the Sword. Most of her other books are romances that haven’t appealed to me that much, but this one is historical fiction about the Irish uprising and the struggle for independence. Our story centers on Anne Gallagher, who inadvertently travels back in time to Ireland 1921. It sounds a bit like ‘Irish Outlander’ to me, but Harmon’s writing is so gorgeous and lyrical that I’m anticipating a thoughtful and sensitive take on this piece of Ireland’s history (something I’m woefully uneducated on, so definitely a learning opportunity for me!).

The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka – Jul. 9, 2019
This book stands in contrast to most of the others on this list, but somehow I forgot it on my other list, even though I’ve known it’s coming for awhile. The Stories You Tell is the 3rd book in Kristen Lepionka’s mystery series about private investigator Roxane Weary. The series is pretty much what you expect from this type of series, with each book looking at a different investigation, but I love Roxane as the main character! She has so much depth and I love how Lepionka develops Roxane’s character around her over-arching mystery plot and how many relevant social themes she incorporates into her storylines. A mystery series with meaning, depth, and a killer MC.

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin – Apr. 16, 2019
This was a recent discovery for me, but 4 years after her beautiful debut novel, The Thing About Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin is publishing a new book! Benjamin is a middle grade writer and her new book is about 7th grader Caitlyn Breen who is starting a new school in Vermont. As if it’s not hard enough starting a new school, Caitlyn’s classmates are reeling from the loss of their beloved class clown, Paulie Fink and decide to run a competition to replace him (he’s left the school, not died or anything!). The Thing about Jellyfish had the most gorgeous writing and in this second novel I’m expecting another beautiful story about growing up and finding yourself.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – Mar. 5, 2019
A Woman is No Man was one of Book of the Month’s featured picks, so of course, I keep seeing it popping up everywhere now! This is Rum’s debut novel and focuses on 18-year old Arab-American teenager, Deya. Though she’s only 18, her grandparents are forcing her into an arranged marriage, not unlike the marriage that was forced onto her own mother, Isra. This has been getting rave reviews and the premise sounds fascinating to me! Another family drama I can’t wait to get my hands on (I’m also intrigued by what the title means).

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton – Apr. 9, 2019
My book club pick for this month is Next Year in Havana, which Chanel Cleeton published last year, I haven’t even started it yet, but I’m really excited to read it and then even more excited to hear it was getting a second novel. My understanding is that When We Left Cuba will be a companion novel, with each book focusing on one of the Perez sisters. I don’t want to get too into the plot having not read the first book yet, but they’re both set in Cuba in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s and focus on Cuba’s political climate at that time. I’m thinking I might read these two back to back before my book club meeting!

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – Mar. 19, 2019
Queenie was just released and is being called a “modern day Bridget Jones”. It’s about a 25 year old Jamaican-British woman living in London (New Adult books representing on this list!) and her quest for love and to deal with her anxiety. All the reviews I’ve read said that this has the humour you would expect from a book being compared to Bridget Jones, but that it has a lot more depth. I love that more and more books like this are being published and I really hope this trend continues!