Opening Line: "Robyn Kellen stepped out of the car and stared at her new home."
Robyn is the perpetual new kid, having moved every few years for her mom's work as a biology professor. She really wants to fit in and not stand out in a bad way at her new school in San Luis Opisbo. She's even developed a list of rules to help her get by, but a dog agility class and desire to train her two dogs throws a wrench in her plan. On her first day of school, Robyn does meet two girls, Marshan and Lulu who seem welcoming, but who also warn her about purple loving Alejandara, aka "the grape." Associating with her would make Robyn stand out, and that just won't do. Then she meets Nestor, who's grandma runs the agility class she hopes to join, but when his grandma informs her that Robyn's dogs aren't suitable for training because Fudge can't hear or see, and Sundae has anxiety if not near Fudge, she's forced to try and make an agreement with Nestor for training. In exchange for her help with fractions, he agrees to teach her dogs. The only problem, she's not very good at math either. Can she throw out all her rules and agree to Alejandara joining their group to make the ability training work?
New Kids and Underdogs is from the same author who wrote We Could Be Heroes, another beautiful story featuring a young boy with Autism who gets pulled into helping a girl save the dog next door. One thing that I've enjoyed about reading both of these books is the dynamics between the main characters. How they're developing their relationships and having to resolve conflicts and collaborate, sharing their own strengths. Robyn and her new friends put in a lot of effort to train Sundae and Fudge. Things don't always go smoothly, but they seem to come up with alternative plans. At times I could identify with Robyn's feelings of wanting to fit in. How she chooses Lulu and Marshan as a means of not standing out despite them being gossipy and their strange obsession with how sad people are. I get why she's leery of them. I could also identify with the feeling of jealousy when Alejandra, Jonathen and Nestor start to get closer while training Fudge. That feeling of being left out and missing out on the closeness that they shared. The story makes you think about the way that some kids navigate school looking for their pack. Their core group of friends that seemingly have your back. I also really liked how the agility training was adapted into one of ability and the ways in which Robyn changed to be a more supportive and better friend.
Margaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down, both Junior Library Guild Selections. Her other works have appeared in FamilyFun Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit MargaretFinnegan.com.
Just like the kids in New Kids & Underdogs, you can ability train your dog! Check out the fun tips here!
** A huge thank you to Blue Slip Media for the E-ARC**