While Ali Benjamin’s deceptively deep middle-grade novel The Next Great Paulie Fink approaches a number of important themes—from self-awareness and the subjectiveness of memory to systematic power imbalances—one thing that it proudly, brazenly does is celebrate constructive nonconformity. The mindset of the disruptor, as classmate Gabby calls them, is on full display throughout the narrative.
First demonstrated by the recollected exploits of the titular Mr. Fink and further expanded upon by Gabby’s reality TV idol, Jadelicious, the disruptor archetype exists alongside other traditional roles such as the fighter, the archenemy, and the authority figure. Gabby describes them thusly:
“The Disruptors are the ones who refuse to follow the rules. Or, I don’t know. It’s not exactly like don’t follow rules, it’s that they know something the others don’t: most rules aren’t even actual rules.”
From performative individualism and carefully cultivated outrageousness to confronting the very real ills of needless societal expectations, the disruptor acknowledges that sometimes one must sacrifice politeness, comfortable conformity, and even risk potential punishment for the sake of the cause. The cause of shaking things up. The cause of calling out what is unfair and unnecessary. The cause of being one’s full self.
Conventions must be challenged to see if they are just. Boundaries must be tested to see just how far they go. Sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and it’s the very job of the disruptor to point this out.