A reluctant newcomer in a small Vermont town, Caitlyn joins 10 other seventh-graders at the Mitchell School, which resembles a haunted house. Though initially uncomfortable among her classmates, who often reminisce about Paulie Fink, a former student and legendary prankster, Caitlyn comes to enjoy mentoring a kindergartener and running a secret class contest to find "the next great Paulie Fink." When she discovers that, with reduced revenues, Mitchell may be forced to close, Caitlyn realizes how much her quirky new school matters to her. Interspersed with frequent statements from classmates, teachers, and the principal, Caitlyn's first-person narrative places her at the story's emotional center, while an ensemble cast of individuals revolves around her and ultimately supports Caitlyn in becoming her own person. Though the pacing seems slow initially, the story becomes more engaging as Caitlyn begins to find her way. Gradually realizing that she feels remorse for bullying a classmate at her old school, she becomes an increasingly sympathetic character. A change of pace for Benjamin, who wrote The Thing about Jellyfish (2015). Grades 4-7. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews
A wildly imaginative but never mean-spirited prankster, Paulie Fink was the life of Mitchell School. When he doesn't appear on the first day of seventh grade, his classmates (called the "Originals," since they are the school's inaugural class) are bereft and largely ignore new-girl Caitlyn. Missing her old friends, play-by-the-rules Caitlyn scoffs at her classmates' eccentricities and those of the easygoing school, located in an old Vermont mansion whose lawn boasts dilapidated statues of gods and where goats trim the overgrown soccer field. To "pull Paulie back to us," the Originals stage a reality TV–style competition to "find someone to play the role of Paulie. Someone whose official job it is to make school... memorable," and they recruit Caitlyn to concoct challenges that reflect Paulie's spirit. Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) adroitly fleshes out her witty premise—and Paulie's charismatic personality—through Caitlyn's narration, interviews with Originals and administrators, and reflections on the ancient Greek beliefs taught in class. Genuinely original, the novel offers thoughtful perspectives on friendship, accepting change, and the many rewarding guises of storytelling, as well as a fully gratifying ending that the characters don't see coming. Ages 8–12. (Apr.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.Review by School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 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.—Luann Toth, School Library Journal Copyright 2019 School Library Journal.