Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Books about quirky/offbeat preteen girls are all the rage, apparently. Unfortunately, sometimes the characters are so precocious/quirky/offbeat that they speed directly pass amusing and go straight into the "annoying" category. Thankfully, A Crooked Kind of Perfect deftly straddles the fine line between quirky and exasperating. And from a first time author too! Yay!

Zoe Elias is a bit different from the other ten year olds at her school. Her dad has agoraphobia and a cleanliness fetish that points to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The illness(es) is(are) never labeled as such, but it should be obvious to adult readers. Due to her father's inability to have a job, her mother works overtime. Zoe's dream is to play the piano at Carnegie Hall; however, her lack of a piano and thus, piano lessons, make this a mere fantasy.

However Zoe's parents manage to buy a Perfectone D-60. What's a Perfectone D-60? It's an organ (an imitation of an organ at that). Zoe begins her Perfectone lessons, taught by a teacher who mutters very creative musically referenced epitaphs ("Handel's cousin Hannah") and seemingly only owns music books titled, "Hits of the 70s" and "Hits of the 90s" (there "were no hits in the 80s," replies Zoe's teacher when she asks about the jump in the series).

When not practicing "Forever in Blue Jeans," for the Perform-O-Rama Perfectone competition, Zoe is dealing with the loss of her best friend, a budding friendship with a boy classmate, and her father's psychological issues. When I reread this sentence, it makes it seem like A Crooked Kind of Perfect is another one of those maudlin issue-driven children's/YA novels.

Far from it! While there are certainly "issues" in the book, they are dealt with in a humorous (not mocking) manner. This is a seriously funny and, dare I say, "cute" read. The book is slightly over 200 pages, but bear in mind that the book is more compact than most children's novels. Were it of average length, the page numbers would inevitably be shorter. The book is also divided into very short (sometimes one page in length) vignettes. Zoe is such an engaging and realistically drawn narrator that the reader is moved to keep reading. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2007.

Warning: Do not read the rest of the review if you don't want to read about a significant development in one of the main characters.


Adult readers with a working knowledge of psychology may take offense over the final moments involving Zoe's father. Mainly, that he somehow begins to work through his disorders in order to attend Zoe's performance and even land a job as a baker (albeit in the extremely early hours of the day, which enable him to avoid traffic, which is one of his stressors, and which enables him to be the only employee around during that time). This is achieved without the benefit of counseling and/or medication; her father seemingly "talks" himself into attending her competition and accepting the job. Of course, overcoming psychological disorders without the benefit of talk therapy and medication is possible, but with the severity of Zoe's father's illnesses, credulity may be stretched for some readers. However, this is the only major fault I find with the novel. I also hasten to add that her father is definitely not magically cured; these are somewhat small steps (remember that the job will not force him to be in sustained contact with coworkers and customers). He obviously still has the disorders, and will probably need to seek outside help in order to cope (why does Zoe's mother seem fine with this? This is never explained. OK-fault #2).

However, this shouldn't be enough to dismiss the book. Had this been a more "serious" book, with the disorders more in the forefront than they are in this book, I probably would have been more critical. If this is fair or not, I'm not entirely sure. Zoe is such a neat character that I am ready to defend the book against naysayers, even though I may agree with their observations. It is a genuinely funny book, with several laugh out loud moments. I'm definitely keeping a look out for Linda Urban's forthcoming books!

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