Tuesday, November 27

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Linda Urban
Harcourt 2007

Zoe wants a piano. In her mind she considers herself a piano prodigy waiting to be discovered. She's just a baby grand away from Carnegie Hall. But when her easily-distracted dad is charged with procuring the instrument he returns home with a cheesy Perfectone D-60 organ, complete with electronic rhythm sections and lessons that feature television theme songs in its practice book. When her teacher discovers that Zoe has some talent she convinces her to enter the annual Perform-O-Rama competition. And much middle grade hilarity ensues.

No, actually, it doesn't. What happens is much anxiety ensues, as Zoe is forced to attend the competition with her agoraphobic father who leaves poor Zoe in the care of her music teacher who, in turn, passes her off to another family she knows while he cowers in a hotel room. In that respect the book takes an unsettling turn because it really does feel the girl is at sea in the end. I'd like to say I thought this was a case of good writing but I can't imagine the author intended for the reader to feel anxiousness over her well being instead of the suspense of the competition.

It's funny, because until I sat down to write this I hadn't thought about how unnerving the end of the book was. In fact, I'd read recently that some consider this to be the best middle grade book released this year, and I might have given it that if I hadn't started thinking about it. Finishing the book my only qualm had been that there is an inconsistency between Zoe being told there was no classical music available for her organ, and no music beyond the 1980s, when in fact both appear throughout the competition with little mention. I thought it too minor to point out.

But what of the subplot at the beginning, where her best friend from the school year previous has dumped her ceremoniously for not being, well, Bratz enough? In the end it seems the only reason for her inclusion is for the sudden appearance of a certain baby grand at the end of the story and a good graphic for the cover. And what of that other strange subplot, the one with the boy who might be her boyfriend who hangs out with her dad all the time in the kitchen baking? Wait a minute, doesn't Zoe's mother use a mirror to read scores over the judges shoulders so she can calculate scores in the competition?

Now that I think about it, I haven't encountered this much head-scratching since... The Higher Power of Lucky! This book is exactly what a librarian might consider to be the perfect middle grade reader after all! There aren't enough "serious issues" to really make this award-worthy, but if the Newbery committee proves me wrong you read it here first.

So here's the thing. I read this because my youngest was hungry for something light and fluffy, something to read quickly between larger books, something to cleanse her palate. After I read it and felt I could recommend it to her she devoured it pretty much in a single sitting. It was perfect for the moment and easily forgotten when the moment was over, which was exactly what she wanted. I think that's good enough.
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