Friday, June 21, 2013

Elvis and the underdogs by Jenny Lee

Benji has always been small and sickly. He also has a tendency to faint when he gets scared or overexcited. He's pretty much accepted his life as a loner until one day in fourth grade he's watching the school bully pick on a new kid and trying to figure out how he's going to get away without being seen when he faints...and wakes up in the hospital. Again. The doctor gives him two options - safety helmet or therapy dog. Despite his impassioned protests, his mom decides it's the helmet until, just as Benji predicted, it turns out to be a disaster. Only a few weeks later his therapy dog arrives.

He turns out to be a giant, black Newfoundland. Who talks. Parker Elvis Pembroke IV informs Benji that he is really the president's new dog, but he agrees to stick around for a while until things get sorted out. At first they don't get along at all; Elvis is very prickly and a show-off and Benji doesn't think he needs anything to make him stick out anymore - like a giant talking dog that only he can hear - but eventually the two become close friends. By the time Elvis heads off to the White House, Benji has the first real friends he's ever had and a new outlook on life.

I did laugh quite a bit reading this and enjoyed it, but I don't think I'll buy it for the library. For a book about fourth graders (which means the audience will be mostly third grade) 300 pages is way, way too long. Even for fourth-fifth grade that's long. The author is apparently a writer for a popular Disney kids show and there's a definite cinematic feel to the story, but what works on the tv screen doesn't necessarily work in print. There are a lot of inner monologues which I found funny as an adult reader but I think most children would get bogged down in them. There's also a lot going on - a popular girl athlete who wants to be able to do girly things and not devote her whole life to sports, childhood illness, bullies, a stereotypical nerd, etc. The plot device of the talking dog felt very immature and while it fits with the character of Benji, I don't think it would go over well with readers. Finally, one thing struck me as very out of sync. Even after the doctor explains what Benji's illness is (idiopathic epilepsy) he continues to call it "fainting" throughout the book. Of course every child is different, but every kid I've met with any kind of disability or illness has always been very specific in saying what their condition is - I think it's recommended to parents as a way for kids to take some control of their illness maybe, but I don't remember where I saw that.

Verdict: Final conclusion - the bones of a good and very funny story are here, but it could have done with a lot more editing and a better idea of who the audience is in my opinion. Actually, you could have just removed the entire talking dog and White House aspect of the story and it would have been better (and shorter).

ISBN: 9780062235541; Published May 2013 by Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013

1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

Exactly. With you on all counts!