'The Next Great Paulie Fink' Weaves Greek Mythology Into Teen Angst09:45
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"The Next Great Paulie Fink," by Ali Benjamin. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"The Next Great Paulie Fink," by Ali Benjamin. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Award-winning author Ali Benjamin's new young adult novel "The Next Great Paulie Fink" explores familiar teen themes, from teen angst, to bullying to self-definition. But what sets the novel apart is Benjamin's ability to skillfully weave Greek mythology, Shakespeare and even reality television into the mix.

Benjamin joins Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss her latest work.

Book Excerpt: 'The Next Great Paulie Fink'

by Ali Benjamin

THE KICKOFF

[Recording on]

SEPTEMBER 25, four weeks ADP (After the Disappearance of Paulie)

FIONA:
Come on, Caitlyn. What are you waiting for? We’ve elected you leader. Just start this thing already!

CAITLYN:
Okay . . . uh . . . what am I supposed to say?

FIONA:
Anything! Who cares? Just make it sound official. And try to sound excited for a change.

CAITLYN:
Okay, so this is the official record of the Search for the Next Great Paulie Fink. This reality‑TV‑style competition is being conducted by the Mitchell School’s seventh grade, aka the Originals, aka the cave, aka this den of stinking goats . . .

FIONA:
Hey! Be nice. Actually, never mind. We elected you because you’re not nice. Go ahead.

CAITLYN:
The competition will be run and documented by me, Caitlyn Breen, the eleventh and most recent member of Mitchell’s seventh grade. But I’d like to state for the record that it’s ridiculous you all want me to be in charge. A month ago, I’d never even heard the name Paulie Fink, and I’d never met any of you, and—

ORIGINALS:
Cait-lyn! Cait-lyn! Cait-lyn!

CAITLYN:
—now here I am running an entire show, or whatever the heck this is, and will you please stop chanting like that?

ORIGINALS:
Cait-lyn! Cait-lyn! Cait-lyn!

CAITLYN:
Listen, if I’m going to do this, I need to hear more stories about this mysterious Paulie Fink. But I can’t start if you don’t stop making so much noise. So can you be quiet for a change? Please?

Okay, thank you. Now, who wants to go first?

Interview: Diego

CAITLYN:
Okay, it’s recording, Diego. Go ahead.

DIEGO:
Hey ho, Diego Silva, king of the soccer field here. Master attacker, wizard of kicks, genius of speed and agility—

CAITLYN:
Diego. Stick to the topic, okay? We’re here to talk about Paulie Fink.

DIEGO:
Right. Diego Silva here, coming in live to talk about the one and only Paulie Fink. And I’m here to tell you: That kid was a god.

Oh, don’t roll your eyes like that, Caitlyn! I don’t mean he was God. I mean, duh. Obviously he wasn’t that. He was a god, which is totally different. I also don’t mean god like all those Brazilian soccer gods. Nah, Paulie couldn’t play soccer to save his life. I mean the kind of gods that Mags talks about in humanities class. The ones who sat up on Mount Olympus. In a way, those gods were like normal people—they
messed up constantly, and they drove each other bonkers, and sometimes they played wild pranks. But they also had powers that regular people didn’t have, and they created chaos for everyone else.

That’s what Paulie was like. He messed up big‑time. Sometimes he played wicked‑funny tricks. And everything he did always led to chaos for the rest of us.

The kid was legendary. I’m pretty sure that’s the word. Paulie Fink was totally legendary.

Interview: Mr. Farabi

Paulie Fink? Brilliant, that kid.

Not that he was always a joy to have in class, mind you. But as the school’s science and math teacher, I found it hard not to appreciate his . . . um . . . innovative thinking.

I mean, the banana‑peel debacle? Mini‑geddon? His food wars with Principal Glebus? Wait, you haven’t heard those stories? Ask your classmates. I think you’ll see that every one of his stunts had a certain element of genius.

I don’t mean genius like Marie Curie or Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking. He wasn’t like any sort of genius that’s going to appear in your textbooks. Paulie Fink was more of what you’d call . . . an evil genius.

Interview: Fiona

There was something about his eyes. Even when he was in trouble, even when Ms. Glebus was wagging that craggy finger in his face, his eyes were always kind of sparkly, like he had a disco ball back there, twirling around inside his brain.

And then he just up and disappeared. No warning. No good‑bye. First day of seventh grade, Paulie just wasn’t there.

Poof.

Gone.

See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

And no offense, Caitlyn, but it’s not like you were any sort of replacement. In fact, the first time I saw your eyes, I was all, Now there’s a girl who’s never laughed. Not once in her entire stinkin’ life.


Excerpted from the book THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK by Ali Benjamin. Copyright © 2019 by Ali Benjamin. Republished with permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

This segment aired on April 24, 2019.

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