Unlike my generation, my kids are constantly connected. Thanks to the pervasiveness of modern technology, they can get the answer to practically any question in an instant, share a moment as it’s happening, reach out when they need a hand, some encouragement, or just a sympathetic ear.
Ali Benjamin uses this ubiquitous technology to great effect in her new middle-grade novel The Next Great Paulie Fink. Narrator Caitlyn conveys the story of her move to Mitchell, Vermont, the contest to replace grade seven’s missing class clown, and the ensuing chaos via a number of clever devices—both literary and technological.
While much of the prose is presented traditionally, with Caitlyn relating events of the present and revelations of the past in the standard first-person narrative, Benjamin does a fine job interspersing within this middle school tale blocks of text that clearly reflect more modern formats.
There are the frequent “interview” segments, wherein Caitlyn plumbs the memories of the students and faculty at the Mitchell School for information on the exploits of the titular Paulie Fink. There are similarly text chains, mobile messaging conversations—predominantly one-sided—between Caitlyn and her old friends back in New York. There are even, on a handful of occasions, prepared speeches that serve as launching points for the chaotic set pieces that make up the reality show-style contest to crown a new clown prince.
While some things never change, like regular class cut-ups and the tumultuousness of adolescent relationships, many do, and Ali Benjamin goes out of her way to reflect the contemporary tween’s relationship with technology and media in a way that’s sure to impress older readers just as it engages younger ones.