Elvis and the Underdogs
by Lee, Jenny; Light, Kelly (ILT)






All his life Benji, now ten, has been sickly and he has long been targeted by the school bully, but after a seizure Benji gets a therapy dog that is big enough to protect him and can also talk.





*Starred Review* This funny, unabashedly feel-good boy-and-dog story, features an unusually intelligent 200-pound Newfoundland and a manic, undersized 10-year-old with a preemie legacy of illnesses, allergies, accidents, and fainting spells. In the wake of an event diagnosed as an idiopathic epileptic seizure, Benji stages a frantic campaign to get a therapy dog rather than wear the world's dorkiest safety helmet. His crusade bears unexpectedly humongous fruit. From an outsize shipping crate comes Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, who stuffily announces to Benji (everyone else hears only growls and barks) that he's earmarked to be the president's dog. However, he supposes he'll stick around until the mistake is rectified. He's telling the truth, but by the time the Secret Service shows up, at the book's conclusion, Elvis and Benji have argued, conspired, joked, and bonded through a helter-skelter series of incidents ranging from a truly memorable classroom show-and-tell to a scary brush with anaphylactic shock. Author Lee (writer-producer at the Disney Channel's Shake It Up) surrounds her well-articulated main characters with a colorful supporting cast. They include Benji's clingy mother, who is caricatured; a bully, who is not; and a mini dog that has Elvis slathering bystanders with drool. This crowd-pleasing debut is definitely ready for prime time. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.





The buoyancy and belly laughs of Elvis and the Underdogs (2013) continue, as Benji and best buddies Alexander and Taisy contrive a trip to D.C. for a reunion with Elvis, a 200-pound talking (to Benji) Newfoundland currently living in the White House as First Dog. Once again Lee presents a diverse and vivid cast headlined by a physically frail motormouth and replete with characters who are capable of keeping up with him-led by his mother, a legendary baker who, as Benji notes with massive understatement, "can be a little melodramatic." Ultimately, her delectable sweets earn an invitation to the White House kitchens, capped by a visit from the president himself. Larger-than-life emotions and rapid banter kick up an already headlong plot featuring a midnight rendezvous, a desperate scheme to prevent Elvis from being given to the prime minister of Japan, a wildly messy kitchen catastrophe, and a heartwarming, if highly improbable, closing twist. The author goes a little heavy on comforting slogans and life advice, but this rich, funny tale bears up easily under the load. Illustrations not seen. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.





Happy-go-lucky Benji Barnsworth and his fellow underdogs pursue goofy adventures through Washington, D.C., in Lee's feel-good sequel to Elvis and the Underdogs (2013). It's been three months since Elvis, Benji's talking service/therapy/emotional-support dog was returned to his original assignment: the president of the United States. Landing in the hospital yet again, Benji searches for videos of the curmudgeonly first dog and finds Elvis wagging an urgent message in Morse code, which Alexander Chang-Cohen, his "human computer" friend, naturally deciphers. Benji, along with Alexander and perky star athlete Taisy, must get to Washington (via convenient coincidences tailored to their character traits) and rescue Elvis from becoming a prime minister's birthday present. It's best to abandon disbelief as the "pack" wreaks havoc on the White House in a series of slapstick mishaps and miscommunications. The service-dog terminology remains careless, but Elvis' elaborately denied jealousy of Benji's new dog provides comic banter as well as relationship development-he gets in some great deadpan one-liners. Alexander and Taisy are nearly caricatures, but at least their extreme traits illustrate the book's message: Friendship "requires a tolerance pact. You tolerate all my weirdo quirky things and I'll tolerate yours." The resolution is fluffy if implausible, with any loose ends tied in a bow-but then, the chronically, wackily unfortunate Benji deserves to have something go right. A light, warm and (very) fuzzy read. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.





Lee's debut novel, a quirky if formulaic take on bullying and friendship, falls short in its description of the partnership between Benji, the narrator, and Elvis, his talking service dog. Benji Barnsworth suffers from a host of ailments and faints under stress-which happens often, since he's Billy Thompson's favorite bullying target. When Benji has a seizure, he trades his new helmet for a service dog: a huge Newfoundland with a smart mouth. Elvis isn't exactly man's best friend, but his presence allows Benji to befriend Taisy, an overwhelmed athlete with an ex-football pro father, and Alexander, a "human GPS" with a photographic memory. Benji's witty, slightly cynical voice and close family support are the most believable aspects of an otherwise implausible book. His friends are caring but stereotypical; Asian-American Alexander's intellect borders on caricature, and Taisy's relationship with her father follows sitcom formula. The service-dog aspect reads like an afterthought. Even Benji's doctor uses "service dog" and "therapy dog" interchangeably despite their different functions, and Benji is unable to say what training Elvis received, which seems remarkably incurious, given their relationship. Elvis' job is so unclear that he could just as easily be an ordinary dog dispensing tough love. Ultimately, the thin plot is far-fetched, even for a story about a talking dog, and readers aware of the true role of service animals will be annoyed by the inaccurate portrayal. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.






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