REVIEW: A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (Harcourt, 2007)

I’ve had to wait a couple days before writing this review because, otherwise, I would have just come here and gushed mindlessly. I’ll still gush, but just not mindlessly.

Zoe wants nothing more than to own a grand piano, play in Carnegie Hall, and be a prodigy like her hero, Vladimir Horowitz. What does she actually get? A "wheezy, wood-grain Perfectone D-60...organ." Not only that, but her dad is agoraphobic, her mom is constantly working, and Wheeler Diggs follows her home everyday. Zoe enters the annual Perfect-O-Rama competition, at the urging of her organ teacher, and finds that sometimes when you don't get what you want, your life begins to take shape.

I don’t think I’m overstating it by calling this a near-perfect novel. I appreciate its subtlety and gentleness and, yet, it’s interesting and complex enough to keep you turning pages. Zoe is a funny, smart character who has some trouble fitting in, and Urban’s skill shows here because she never has to blatantly state that this is the case. Through events and conversations, Zoe’s social status is revealed in a quiet way. Aspects about Zoe's life come to light slowly, to the point where you don’t actually realize how much you’ve learned about her. And this is true of the supporting characters as well - you'll be surprised by how much character development is hidden in the short little chapters. Little snippets gel into a larger portrait. Zoe’s father is agoraphobic, but that’s never forced upon you as you’re reading. Events unfold and you realize that he is crippled by his phobia. It’s never melodramatic, it just is.

Additionally, Zoe’s voice is right on. She is introspective, but appropriately so for her age. She acts out, but never too much. Some books, recent and otherwise, would have you think tweens are ticking time bombs, mean and whiny and temperamental all the time. Is this the case sometimes? Absolutely. But I appreciate that Zoe isn’t in that mode all the time, which is more true to life. She’s a marvelously sympathetic character. Zoe is the typical underdog and you cheer both her and her family on, knowing that good people with strong hearts will triumph in the end. This story is the epitome of hopeful.

I liked this book better than any of the other Newbery contenders I’ve read this year. Remember I couldn’t come up with a fifth book for my Best of Fiction 2007 list? This one has filled that spot. Even if it is yet another girly protagonist book.

Best passage:

I turn on the Perfectone D-60 and flip the switch for piano. I press a key. I press two keys.

I am not excited.

I am the opposite of excited.

Never trust an exclamation point.

Which made me laugh out loud. I use exclamation points without restraint. Does this make me untrustworthy? It doesn’t matter – get a hold of this book now. Trust me (!!!!).


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