I am having plenty of fun frolicking amongst the growing stacks of Cybils nominated titles piling up around my house. Who wouldn’t love coming home to express package after package of yummy books. Every day feels like Christmas. Every new arrival is greeted with much celebration (OK, so I was just a teeny bit more excited about getting A Crooked Kind of Perfect than that other book which shall remain nameless but has a cover more horrible than I could have dreamed possible – I shall not judge).
I just finished A Crooked Kind of Perfect yesterday, and as soon as I did, I sort of wanted to pick it up and hug it and carry it around with me for the rest of the day just so I could look at it whenever I wanted to and sigh, and smile, and shake my head, thinking, “Whatta book!” Linda Urban has written us a charmer – and people are talking. The word Newbery has been whispered, and I have to say, why not?
Zoe Elias is a ten year old kid who wants desperately to become a piano prodigy. She wants a glossy black piano. She wants to play Carnegie Hall. She wants to wear a tiara and to make music like Horowitz. But then her half-crazy dad does something completely unexpected and totally life-changing: he buys Zoe a Perfectone D-60 organ. Zoe, god bless her, just can’t see the romance in her wheezy and weird new instrument, and so begins her unexpected, often bumpy journey towards enlightenment – musical, familial and personal.
First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way. I have a thing against books with super short chapters. They usually feel gimmicky to me. They usually get me wondering why the author hasn’t just written regular chapters, which leads me to question the author’s skill. Not so here. Linda Urban’s little chapters work. They feel like diary-entry type glimpses into Zoe’s life, and Urban’s writing is clean, strong and even throughout her story. This is a lady who could write REALLY long chapters if she wanted to, and I would be lining up to read them.
Books about outstanding baked goods… always a sure sign that the author possesses a deep understanding of The Important Things in Life. (Wish there was a recipe or two at the back. It would add to the book’s quirky perfection).
I think it’s genius how Urban makes the Perfectone D-60 a fully realized character in her book, just as much as Zoe’s devoted but overextended mom, and most-likely OCD dad. Organs hold a dear, dear place in my heart, as I grew up fiddling around with the one my grand dad bought for our farm house. Anyone who knows anything about organs is right there with Zoe and her dad as they mess around with the crazy rhythm effects, dancing and singing in their kitchen. As Zoe finds the inner coolness of her Perfectone D-60, she settles into herself too, in a way that never seems contrived. The voice is often hilarious, and always true to a ten-year old’s perspective.
At several points, this book called to mind Little Miss Sunshine – what with the oddball family, the bright, yearning-for-stardom girl and the crazy Perform-O-Rama event. In fact, the comparison seemed so apt that I really, really wish that Urban had written about Zoe and her dad’s drive from their home to the organ competition. I think Urban missed out on some rich comic potential there.
Linda Urban deserves plenty of attention for her debut. I’ve been inspired. Next time I visit my mom’s place, you can bet I’ll be spending a little time grooving my way down memory lane with my old favs from Roger’s and Hammerstein Hits backed up by a little Boogie Woogie Bass.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is published by Harcourt. Visit Linda Urban’s website for more about her work and her life: Linda Urban Books.