Middle grade novels are a tricky thing. The audience is quirky at best. I can say that having survived it with 3 granddaughters now. A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT is one of those rare beasts: a middle grade novel that is a perfect blend of humor and sharp observation and a little bit of the pain that age brings. Zoe is ten, soon to be eleven. She wants more than anything to have a piano and learn to play. She even fancies that she will be a prodigy if only given the chance to play. Her father, the recipient of MANY certificates from Living Room University (and one of the sources of the wit in this book) buys her instead an organ, a Perfectone D-60. Along with the organ comes lessons from one Mabelline Person (pronounced Per- SOHN, thank you) who enters Zoe in an organ competition.
There are several subplots that reflect perfectly the life of so many of our tweens: best friends who are no longer best friends, boys who might be boyfriends or just friends who are boys, pesky neighbor boys who might actually become friends, mothers who are embarrassing, and a father who is a few bubbles off plumb. Urban manages to keep all these stories in line so they never overshadow Zoe. One of the ways this feat is pulled off is with the structure of the novel, more a series of quick snapshots or vignettes. Since the story is "chopped" in this way, there is never a sense of losing one's way as a reader. A remarkable feat, indeed.
And now it is time to throw myself in bed and try to recharge for another 6 hour seminar tomorrow, the third one in as many days and as many cities.