Zoe Elias is ten, going on eleven, and she’s planning to be the next child prodigy playing piano at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, her father sidetracks her big plans by getting her an organ (the Perfectone D60) instead of the baby grand piano she’s got her heart set on. No matter. Zoe decides to become proficient at the Perfectone D60 first, and to compete in the Perform-O-Rama – a yearly organ-playing competition for kids and adults. Zoe doesn’t really fit in with most of the girls at school, which is ok, because she really hits it off with the boys – particularly Wheeler, who starts coming over to her house every day after school to hang out with her and her dad. Wheeler and Zoe’s dad spend their afternoons baking cookies and breads and delicious tarts while Zoe practices playing the Perfectone D60. Zoe’s dad has a kind of social anxiety that interferes with his ability to lead a normal life (crowds of people make him extremely nervous, as does traffic), and he spends most of his time at home earning mail-order degrees. So, when Zoe learns that her mom won’t be able to take her to the Perform-O-Rama, she’s convinced that she’ll never get her chance to shine. Dad surprises everyone, however (except Zoe’s friend Wheeler who knows he can do anything he sets his mind to), and gets Zoe to the competition where she carries off the 4th place trophy! I love Zoe Elias. She’s so determined, so unique, so unintentionally funny. She and Wheeler really understand one another on a level that most kids don’t – she gets that his father can’t stand to be home, and he gets that her father has problems going out – and they care about each other in a teasing, but completely honest way (this is how everyone wants to be loved and understood). It was almost heartbreaking at times to read about Zoe’s father’s difficulties, but it just makes his triumph over them all the more exciting. There are stories which seem to be specifically designed to address certain problems or issues, and they feel clunky or deliberate – A Crooked Kind of Perfect had none of these flaws. I believe in Zoe Elias. I highly recommend the audiobook edition – it was fantastic; Tai Alexandra Ricci does an excellent job with Zoe’s voice.
* * * * * Stars
Grade level recommendation: 4-8 Lexile: 730 (print version)
Reviewed by Karin Thogersen, Young Adult Librarian