It’s tough being Benji Wendell Barnsworth. As if being born prematurely, fainting on a regular basis and missing school all the time because of illness wasn’t enough, Benji has now ended up in the hospital after having a major seizure at school. In Jenny Lee’s Elvis and the Underdogs, Benji is faced with an impossible choice: Wear a huge, hideous helmet to protect his fragile head from falls or convince his mom to let him have a dog that can sense seizures. However, getting a dog doesn’t turn out exactly as Benji imagined.

The first clue that Elvis is not an ordinary dog is his size. He’s big—no, not just big, but HUGE! The second, and more obvious, clue, is that Elvis introduces himself to Benji as Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, the dog trained to assist the president of the United States. As in, actually introduces himself with words that Benji can understand, even though no one else seems to be able to. Unfortunately, Elvis decides that until the mistake is corrected and he is sent to help the president, he is going to use his voice to boss Benji around. This, however, begins to lead to some unintended consequences and new experiences.

Elvis manages, through stubbornness and determination, to break through the defenses of some surprising people and teach Benji that talking to new people and making friends may not be as awful as he thought.

Elvis and the Underdogs explores the hidden side of people, making the reader look at bullies, athletes and outcasts in an entirely new way. Convincingly told in Benji’s appealing voice and filled with strong, empathetic and fun characters, this heart-warming story will be enjoyed by readers trying to figure out who they really are, and where they fit in the world.

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