NEW KIDS AND UNDERDOGS, by Margaret Finnegan, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Oct. 25, 2022, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 8-12)
A new girl discovers a path to friendship through dog agility training in New Kids and Underdogs, by Margaret Finnegan.
Robyn Kellen has been the new kid six times. She’s practically an expert on the subject and has developed foolproof rules to help her get by: Blend in, don’t go looking for trouble, and move on. Unfortunately, Robyn’s mom has a rule, too: Robyn must do an after-school activity.
When Robyn discovers a dog agility class, she thinks she’s found the perfect thing — but then her dogs, Sundae and Fudge, are rejected from the class. Sundae won’t do anything without Fudge, and Fudge is deaf and blind, and the instructor refuses to change the rules to fit their needs. Luckily, the instructor’s grandson, Nestor — a legend at Robyn’s new school — offers Robyn a deal: If she helps him with math, he’ll train Sundae and Fudge. Problem is, Robyn isn’t so great at math herself, so she’s forced to recruit the class outcast, Alejandra, to help.
Suddenly, Robyn finds herself surrounded by people who do anything but blend in — and sticking to her rules becomes harder than ever. But as Robyn learns how to adapt the rules of agility for Sundae and Fudge, she will find that some rules are worth breaking altogether. —Synopsis provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
There are a lot of things to love about New Kids and Underdogs, but I think my favorite is author Margaret Finnegan’s ability to draw in a large range of readers with something cool — dog agility training — all while exploring nuances of classroom/playground dynamics, self-confidence and friendship.
At the center of Finnegan’s story is Robyn, a girl who’s moved so many times, she’s got a strategy for helping her stay under the radar — to stay safely uninteresting. The thing is, Robyn is interesting. She’s great at handball, she loves her dogs, she’s clever — prime friendship material.
But Robyn is so afraid of sticking out, of being labeled, that she can’t reach her full potential.
That’s where the “friends” she wants to be friends with but avoids because they’re not the “right people” come in. Finnegan fully realizes this fun group of kids, fleshing out their characters enough to make you feel like they could be part of your own group.
And then there are the dogs. Finnegan not only builds Sundae and Fudge’s personalities, but those of the other pups that make an appearance along the way. This is a huge bonus for any dog-loving readers.
There’s a parallel between the dogs and kids that resonates throughout. Readers will immediately relate to the shift from agility to ability training and may even see it as a way to approach some of the obstacles in their own lives.
New Kids and Underdogs is a thoughtful novel that moves quickly and is a joy to read.
About the author:
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 on Twitter: @FinneganBegin and Instagram: @finneganbegin
Just like the kids in New Kids & Underdogs, you can ability train your dog! Check out the fun tips here!
Copyright © 2022 Cracking the Cover. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.