Ten-year-old Zoe Elias knows exactly how everything in her life is supposed to be. As narrator of A Crooked Kind of Perfect, she spells it out on the first page, with the help of first-time author Linda Urban. Zoe will become a child piano prodigy and perform in Carnegie Hall, dressed in a ball gown, tiara and elbow-length gloves.
Zoe's real life is anything but perfect, however. Mom is at her office all the time. Best friend Emma has ditched Zoe for another girl she met over the summer. Dad holes up in the house, earning correspondence course diplomas from Living Room University. When he ventures outside, things often go awry, like the time he bought 432 rolls of toilet paper.
Zoe is excited when Dad goes shopping for a piano—until he returns with a wood-grained Perfectone D-60 electric organ plus six months of free lessons. Before Zoe knows it, she's agreed to compete in the Perform-O-Rama organ contest, only weeks away. While she practices every afternoon, her dad bakes cookies for his "Bake Your Way to the Bank" diploma, assisted by Wheeler Diggs, a kid from Zoe's school who followed her home on the bus.
There's plenty to love about A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Author Urban has a knack for delivering quirky character details with a 10-year-old's spin and creating a storyline that's fresh, a little wacky, yet still plausible. The first-person narration not only keeps the reader engaged in the action but also reveals a vulnerable side to Zoe.
Urban has crafted an atypical framework for a common situation—the child who feels like an outsider. In many children's books, the characters experience grueling and sometimes tragic circumstances, with lessons that can be sad or painful. Urban delivers her "perfect" life lessons with joy, originality and fun.
Freelance writer Robin Wright Gunn lives perfectly happily in Savannah. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Spring
Ten-year-old Zoe dreams of becoming a famous piano prodigy. Instead of a piano, though, her father brings home a Perfectone D-60 organ. Zoe's witty voice narrates the book's short chapters. Readers will identify with Zoe's insecurities, laugh at her quirky family, and feel her pride in this winning story about family, friendship, self-confidence, and dreams come (realistically) true. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #1
Ten-year-old Zoe Elias dreams of becoming a famous piano prodigy. She imagines wearing a ball gown and playing to cheering audiences at Carnegie Hall. But when her agoraphobic father braves the mall to purchase a piano for her, the bright lights and crowds are too overwhelming. Instead of a piano, he comes home with a "wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag" Perfectone D-60 organ. Zoe is "the opposite of excited," but as her weekly lessons progress, she finds she has some talent with the dual keyboard and the rumba rhythm switch. Even Wheeler Diggs, a weird boy from school who befriends Zoe when her best friend ditches her for the popular crowd, thinks her playing is "cool." Zoe's witty voice narrates the short chapters. Readers will identify with Zoe's insecurities, laugh at her quirky family, and feel her pride when she takes part in the Perform-O-Rama organ competition. While the premise is a bit iffy (Zoe's mother is a money-conscious comptroller unlikely to sanction the organ's purchase) and Zoe seems too mature for a ten-year-old, it's easy to overlook such details in this winning story about family, friendship, self-confidence, and dreams come (realistically) true. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 September #1
All ten-year-old Zoe Elias has ever wanted is a baby grand so that she can become a star who dazzles Carnegie Hall. She doesn't know how to play, but that's a minor stumbling block. What she gets instead is an old, wheezy organ, a gift from her well-meaning, agoraphobic dad. While workaholic mom is hardly ever home, Zoe resigns herself to learning to play the instrument, all the while encouraged by her skittish father and a newfound supportive pal. Wouldn't you know that she turns out to be great at it and goes on to win in competition? There's a lot of knowing, child-friendly humor here, not the least provided by Zoe's hoot of an organ instructor. Readers should enjoy the fast-paced, brief chapters, silliness and tongue-in-cheek first-person narration. The author doesn't pull out all the stops, and the ending is pat, but this is still a satisfying read. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #3
Former bookseller Urban makes a highly promising fiction debut with this sweet, funny novel, relayed in short, titled entries. Ten-year-old Zoe dreams of becoming a famous pianist (as she says in "How It Was Supposed to Be," "A piano is sophisticated. Glamorous. Worldly"). But her quasi-agoraphobic father has one of his usual freak-outs as he attempts to shop for a piano and buys her an electric organ instead. How can Zoe possibly become the next Vladimir Horowitz if she has to play on a "Perfectone D-60"? Grudgingly, she begins taking lessons from Mabelline Person (pronounced "Per-saaahn "), who hands Zoe songbooks full of TV theme songs or hits from the '70s ("My piano teacher was supposed to be a sweet, rumpled old man," Zoe confides to readers. "I would call him Maestroâ€¦. He would discourage me from practicing too much and spoiling the spontaneity of my play"). But when Mabelline enters her in the Perform-O-Rama--her first contest ever--Zoe thinks for the first time that her dreams could possibly come true. Throw in an absurdly workaholic mother, a best friend who deserts Zoe for a girl with a rhyming name (Joella Tinstella), an underparented boy who blossoms overnight when Zoe's dad takes him under his wing, and Zoe's dad's eccentricities, if not to say full-blown neuroses; Urban controls these exaggerated elements through the evenness of Zoe's voice. No matter how outrageously her subjects behave, the author always sounds natural. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)[Page 68]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-6-- An impressive and poignant debut novel. Eleven-year-old Zoe dreams of giving piano recitals at Carnegie Hall. When her father purchases a Perfectone D-60, though, she must settle for the sounds of the organ rather than the distinguished sounds of a baby grand. Her organ teacher, Mabelline Person, notices the child's small talent for music and recommends her for the "Perfectone Perform-O-Rama"; she will play Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans." Accepting this new twist to her ambitions, Zoe must depend on a quirky support system: her father, who gets anxious when he leaves the house and who earns diplomas from Living Room University; her workaholic mother; and her classmate Wheeler, who follows Zoe home from school daily to spend time with her father, baking. Playing television theme songs from the '60s and '70s rather than Bach doesn't get Zoe down. Instead, aware of the stark difference between her dream and her reality, she forges ahead and, as an underdog, faces the uncertainty of entering the competition. In the end, resilient and resourceful Zoe finds perfection in the most imperfect and unique situations, and she shines. The refreshing writing is full of pearls of wisdom, and readers will relate to this fully developed character. The sensitive story is filled with hope and humor. It has a feel-good quality and a subtle message about how doing one's best and believing in oneself are what really matter.--Jennifer Cogan, Bucks County Free Library, Doylestown, PA[Page 209]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.