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A Crooked Kind of Perfect [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Linda Urban , Tai Alexandra Ricci
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 11 2007
Carnegie Hall, look out!

Zoe Elias has big musical dreams. As soon as she gets a glossy baby grand piano, she’ll be on her way. Trouble is, what Zoe gets is a wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ. The Perfectone D-60.

How will she ever be discovered as a prodigy when her lesson book is The Hits of the Seventies? Not even a cha-cha beat can make the theme song from The Brady Bunch sound like Beethoven. If you add to that problem a mom who’s always at work, a dad who’s afraid to leave the house, and an odd boy who follows her home from school every day, Zoe’s big dreams are looking pretty lopsided.

But when she enters the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition, Zoe discovers that life is full of surprises–and that maybe a little lopsidedness will help her find what she’s really hoping for.

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From Publishers Weekly

Unhappy cutting hair, Guillaume, the barber of the tiny, declining French town of Amour-sur-Belle, renames his shop Heart's Desire and tries his hand at matchmaking, even though he lost his first love, Emilie, years ago. Guillaume soon proves hopeless: he can't even help his best friend, Yves Leveque, whose heartaches have actually caused him indigestion. When Emilie returns to Amour-sur-Belle a rich divorcée, and sets about restoring a dilapidated old chateau that once brought tourists to the city, she enlivens the slumping town's eligible suitors and the town wags who watch their every move. Debut novelist Stuart infects Amour-sur-Belle's byzantine lore with whimsy (a mini-tornado that made the town pharmacist disappear), the usual beefs (an age-old feud, which began with Guillaume's mother) and sensual detail. It's all done well enough, but a reliance on magical-realist elements to resolve the town's spiraling affairs makes for an unsatisfying resolution. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Aug. 27 2007
Format:Hardcover
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban is a funny, refreshing read. Zoe's voice is so authentic it grabbed me right away. The reader will easily relate to Zoe's disappointment in getting almost what she wished for.

Zoe dreams of being a concert pianist, performing in Carnegie Hall, wearing elbow length gloves and a tiara. But when Zoe asks for a piano, she gets a Perfectone D-60 organ. Mix in an I-found-someone-better best friend, a mom who works too much, and a dad who is afraid to leave the house, and you have a delightful, flaky pastry the reader will devour. Top it off with Wheeler, the cute boy on her bus who spends more time at Zoe's house than his own, and it's an irresistible treat.

Debut author Linda Urban has whipped up a delicious, charming read not to be missed. This reader will be pleased if Ms. Urban follows A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT with another book featuring Zoe and Wheeler.

Reviewed by: Cana Rensberger
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Crooked Kind of Perfect March 3 2009
Format:Hardcover
I found that this book was a very nice read. Linda Urban is a great writer. The main character in the book, Zoe, followed her dream in a very encouraging manner. Also, it helped me see that girls are not always your best friend. Sometimes a girl can have a boy as a best friend. Lastly, this book showed that you should never give up and how great the outcome can be!]
I highly recommend this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Funny Dec 20 2007
Format:Hardcover
Zoe is dead set on playing the piano. Too bad her dad buys her the Perfectone D-60, a wheeze-bag organ. Weren't we all there at some point in our childhood?

Well at least she can perform at Perform-O-Rama!"
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing crooked about it Aug. 21 2007
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Humor is just so hard in children's books. You either crash too hard on the adult side of the equation (see: The Manny Files) or you end up going too far the other direction and end up ridiculously scatological (see: Out of Patience). The balance has to be perfect and, if you want your book to be memorable, also work in some real emotion, heart, and (God help us all) learning. Because this mix is so difficult, you rarely end up with a book quite as pleasant as Linda Urban's "A Crooked Kind of Perfect". First of all, it wins the 2007 Most Appropriate Title Award. Second, it has a firm grasp on hitting just the right tone. In a relatively blah year of realistic girl fiction, Urban's book is a cut above the rest.

Zoe has dreams you know. Dreams of owning a gorgeous piano, all shiny and black. Of performing before vast adoring audiences. Of being a prodigy and admired by people like her classically inclined mother. So what does she get instead? An organ. A Perfectone D-60 if you want to be precise. And it's not as if her school life is much of an improvement either. Her former best friend Emma Dent has informed her that Joella Tinstella is now her best friend right now, and to top it all off that bully Wheeler Diggs has somehow managed to ingratiate himself into her family. So when Zoe enters the Perform-O-Rama competition for organs she doesn't expect much. Fortunately for her, she finds that people can surprise you when you least expect them to. Sometimes for the bad, but also sometimes for the good.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly certain that we haven't come up with a name for children's novels with short short chapters. You know the kind I mean. They look like verse novels at first, but a quick perusal shows that the author hasn't broken up the action into strategically separated tiny sentences. I think the author chose this method because she prefers to keep things sharp and sweet. Her storyline works best when she can leap from thought to memory to current event. Some parents like to pooh-pooh those children's books that eschew length for sure-footed pacing. I'll admit right here and now that due to its format "A Crooked Kind of Perfect" really does make for an enjoyably quick book. You might want to consider handing it to those kids who like to read but are turned off by long wordy novels.

Plus it's funny. I could give you five hundred examples from this book. I could also give you just one reason and leave it at that. One Reason: There is a chapter about the Fireside Scouts entitled, "I Don't Need No Stinking Badges". Oh, how about two? There's an organ teacher who swears by saying things like, "Handel's Cousin Hannah". One more, one more. When a girl at the organ competition plays "Getting' Jiggy Wit It" you STILL have overly competitive parents saying things like "I'd hardly call that jiggy" and "That girl could never have handled the original composition." Last one, I swear. When Zoe is given all the different Perfectone D-60 songbooks, she sees they all have names like "Hits of the Sixties" and "Hits of the Nineties". Naturally she wonders why there aren't any "Hits of the Eighties". She is informed that there weren't any. Fine. That's more than just one reason. In fact, I had to actively not mention some of the other moments in this book that are amusing in and of themselves and, when taken as a whole, add up to one heckuva funny middle grade novel. You should be proud of me.

Urban makes some interesting choices in this book. Zoe's father is never out-and-out diagnosed as OCD or anything along those lines. You know he's seriously uncomfortable around people he doesn't know. That he fears leaving the house. That he can't deal with a lot of things that other parents could. There's a moment, of course, when it mentions that Zoe and her family are watching, "the detective on TV get all weirded out about being in a crowded elevator." Those of you familiar with Monk might see how it applies to Zoe's family. Few kids will, though. I'm fond of books that don't go about slapping labels on every neurosis and character quirk you find. Zoe's dad is just her dad. He has problems with people and crowds and shopping and traveling out of the house, but he's also a really good father. The book makes that much perfectly clear.

FYI: You know you're old when you run across the main character in a children's book complaining that the songs she can play on her organ existed before she was born. Songs like "Seasons in the Sun" (fine), "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp-Bomp-Bomp)" (fine), and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (SOB!).

If the book has a problem it probably concerns the lack of dramatic tension. For example, one day Wheeler's mildly pissed about something and yet the next time Zoe sees him she says, "I thought you might not come back here ever." It's a rather extreme sentence considering the two of them never ever really fight. There is some tension regarding Zoe's parents and their presence in her life, so that may make up for the lack of problems elsewhere in the book. Yet as a former resident of Southwestern Michigan, I'd have enjoyed a little more clarification as to the location of this book. The competition is in somewhere called Birch Valley? Aw, make it Kalamazoo. You could totally have a competition there.

Tiny nibbles of complaints aside, it's a swell read. Characters are crystal clear and their motivations make perfect sense. Urban wields the infinitely difficult first person narrative with aplomb. And, all that aside, it's about a kid who plays the organ. That's just a good high-concept idea right there. One of the more pleasant first-time novelist surprises of the year.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent title for third to sixth graders, highly recommended Oct. 27 2007
By Jennifer Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a book about taking joy in the special things about yourself and your family, even if they aren't conventionally perfect. Zoe Elias is in fifth grade. She has a workaholic mother (a state Controller) and a father who has difficulty coping with the world outside of his home. Zoe returns to school after the summer and finds that her best friend has abandoned her for someone cooler, and become consumed by lip gloss, CDs, and trendy clothes. What Zoe wants is to grow up to be a famous pianist, and play at Carnegie Hall. She dreams of elegant black concert pianos and hushed silences. Her reality, however, is somewhat different from her expectations (and involves a flamboyant organ).

There is much to like about this book. The writing is deceptively simple, with short paragraphs, and plenty of white space. At one point there is a chapter that only has one six-word sentence on the page. This is not a book that would intimidate an eight year old. And yet, Linda Urban manages to pack multiple levels of meaning into every sentence. She is a master of show, don't tell, and of presenting fully realized, three-dimensional characters. Her word selection is so perfect that the book almost feels like a verse novel (though it clearly isn't). Here is an example:

The senior center had one piano, and it was not grand. It was an almost-upright. It leaned to one side. I guessed it had been donated by a school because there were initials carved into its legs, and if you lifted the yellow scarf off the top, you could read all about a Mrs. Pushkin who smelled like fish. The bench was bowed from years of supporting senior citizen backsides. (Page 10)

I love: "It was an almost-upright". Here is another example that shows the short, poetic paragraphs:

"When the balcony people first get to Carnegie Hall, they can't see the stage. All they see is a huge velvet curtain with gold fringe and tassels.
The lights dim.
The curtain rises.
And there is a glossy black grand piano.
Nobody says a word.
They don't even breathe.
They wait.
They wait." (Page 150)

That refrain of "They wait. They wait." is repeated several times throughout the book. I think it speaks to Zoe's deeper longing concerning being a concert pianist, someone to whom people give undivided attention, and for whom people are willing to wait. Zoe's mother is a very busy woman.

One last quote:

"Me and Mom shake our heads (when friends leave to go the restroom). We have really strong bladders. It is one thing we have in common." (Page 185).

I like this quote because the author is doing so much in a small space. "Me and Mom" gives you a fifth grade voice, doesn't it? It's not "Mom and I", it's "Me and Mom." As it should be. And then "it is one thing we have in common." When I first read this I read it in my head as "it is the one thing we have in common." Zoe and her Mom are very different, but Zoe is pretty matter-of-fact about it.

Zoe is also matter-of-fact about her father's shortcomings. Zoe's Dad clearly has some sort of clinical mental condition, by which can't handle driving, or being in a room with a lot of people, or seeing bright lights. He doesn't work - he stays home and does unusual home-based courses like "Make Friends and Profit While Scrapbooking". Zoe's activities are restricted because he can't drive her places. She worries about him sometimes, but she accepts his limitations, without being ashamed of him, or angry with him, because he is who he is. And he has his strengths as a father, too, of course.

This is an excellent book to give to a kids in the third to sixth grades. It's a relatively easy read, but with a lot of hidden depth that I think the kids on the middle school end (and higher) will be more able to appreciate. For example, there is a painful scene in which Zoe attends a party where she brings the wrong gift and wears the wrong clothes. This will resonate with any reader who has ever had such an experience. (And who hasn't?)

Although A Crooked Kind of Perfect touches on like liking between boys and girls, Zoe's experience is at the very earliest stage of that, in which there's no question of much more than a jumpy feeling in your stomach. And although the narrator of the story is a girl, I think that boys will enjoy this book, too. A boy named Wheeler is a major character (though we can't directly know what he's thinking), and issues with quirky parents transcend gender. Plus there are several scenes involving burping, which are sure crowd-pleasers.

I think that this is a book that will receive some serious consideration from the Newbery committee. It's beautifully written, but also quirky and funny and full of heart. I think that kids will enjoy the story, and will laugh out loud at the funny parts (Zoe goofing around with her Dad, and the ironic contrast between her dreams and her reality). I also think that kids who are right at that transitional age between childhood and adolescence will be able to see themselves in Zoe and Wheeler, and will find this validating. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on October 27, 2007.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Kind of Book... Aug. 14 2007
By L. K. Messner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There should be more books like Linda Urban's A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT.

Zoe Elias, a would-be piano prodigy, ends up not with a baby grand piano at Carnegie Hall but with a sighing, cha-cha, oompa organ at the Perform-O-Rama. Zoe's voice is funny and touching and true, as she paints the picture of her ten-year-old life. A coin-counting mother who works all the time. A father who's afraid to leave the house (but makes a mean maple tart). A best friend who ditches her. And that organ....

This book made me laugh out loud on the couch so many times my son put down THE LIGHTNING THIEF to listen for a while. It's a fantastic example of how a great middle grade book can turn the every day trials of a kid into an amazing story, just like Zoe makes music from whatever life dishes out to her.

I teach middle school, and sometimes I find that I have more choices for my readers who like edgy YA stories than I do for those kids who read well but aren't quite ready for teenager issues. A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT is a perfect kind of book for those readers, and I'm so happy I'll have it for them when school starts in a few weeks.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Perfect if you ask me! Aug. 11 2007
By Lisa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Once in awhile, a book comes along that grabs your heart from the beginning and doesn't let go, even long after the last page has been turned.

A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, by Linda Urban, is one of those special, rare books.

It's a book about dreams, about family and friends, about music, and about making the most of what you've got.

The voice, the characters, the story - I loved it all. When I was done reading, I e-mailed the author and told her I would be heart-broken if this book doesn't win a bunch of awards. It really is that special.

I know a couple of girls who will be getting a copy of this book for their birthday in the next couple of months. I can't wait to share Zoe's story with them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Aug. 17 2007
By TeensReadToo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban is a funny, refreshing read. Zoe's voice is so authentic it grabbed me right away. The reader will easily relate to Zoe's disappointment in getting almost what she wished for.

Zoe dreams of being a concert pianist, performing in Carnegie Hall, wearing elbow length gloves and a tiara. But when Zoe asks for a piano, she gets a Perfectone D-60 organ. Mix in an I-found-someone-better best friend, a mom who works too much, and a dad who is afraid to leave the house, and you have a delightful, flaky pastry the reader will devour. Top it off with Wheeler, the cute boy on her bus who spends more time at Zoe's house than his own, and it's an irresistible treat.

Debut author Linda Urban has whipped up a delicious, charming read not to be missed. This reader will be pleased if Ms. Urban follows A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT with another book featuring Zoe and Wheeler.

Reviewed by: Cana Rensberger
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