Haven’t We All Been There? A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban – Review by Gina Ruffcorn
Reading A Crooked Kind of Perfect caused me to wince and empathize with Zoe as I recalled all of those awkward, icky moments of childhood. The ones that make you want to have the floor swallow you whole.
My most vivid personal example came from second grade. As a form of catharsis, I will share it with you, knowing that just like the main character, Zoe, we all have those moments. For some educational purpose unbeknownst to me, after all it was second grade, my classmates and I were asked to kindly contribute a recipe from home for a class cookbook. I romped home, note in hand, and my mother gladly obliged. Compliantly I turned my recipe in, secretly excited, due to the fact that Mom had worked my name into the title of the recipe. I can still see her curly cursive grownup handwriting in my mind. The top of the recipe read, “Gina’s Lemon Lovenotes”. I felt special to have my name be part of the title, since titles are extremely important pieces of any document, everyone knows that!
Once the contributions were all collected, the class recipe book was bound and then passed out to us. Everyone eagerly flipped through the pages, commenting and chatting excitedly as we all looked for our entries. The waves of hushed, covert giggles were barely stifled when they got to my recipe. Apparently I was the only nerdy kid in the class whose mommy had worked their name into the title of the recipe. The teasing I took for my Lemon Lovenotes was unbearable if you were a geeky non-athletic kid with Coke-bottle glasses. So Zoe’s thoughts and feelings from A Crooked Kind of Perfect were readily identifiable for me, as I am certain they would be for any kid, or anyone who has ever been a kid for that matter.
The elements of the novel are genuinely accurate and dealt with in an optimistically hopeful manner as the plot unfolds. The awkwardness of losing a best friend, the inadequacy of not having the popular clothes, the embarrassment suffered at the hands of well meaning parents are all honestly expressed by Zoe during her fifth grade school year.
Other issues introduced in the book were uniquely interesting. Zoe’s father is the head of what Zoe and her mom lovingly refer to as “Domestic Affairs.” He has an affinity for mail order packet courses sent to him via mailings from The Living Room University. Through Zoe’s description of her father and his eccentric behaviors his social anxiety disorder is slowly revealed. Zoe’s mother is a completely different type of character with some rather unemotional, almost robotic-like tendencies. However, her humanness and loving nature are evident as she and Zoe share small, unexpected moments. The life challenges and the lessons that her parents learn as the story progresses are courageous and heartfelt.
The novel’s relationship between Zoe and a boy in her class named Wheeler is particularly uncommon as well. Wheeler appears to be the classic “tough kid from a broken home” type antagonist when he is first introduced. Both the development of his personality and his interactions with Zoe and her family are surprisingly unanticipated.
More than anything else in the world Zoe wants to play the piano and be discovered as a child prodigy. The arrival of her Perfectone D-60 organ is not what she wished for. Her trials and tribulations are humorously presented as she grows to begrudgingly appreciate the fake wood grain, wheezing organ. Through her tenacious inner resolve to do the best with what she has, she learns some amazingly valuable life lessons.
As a result of my experience reading A Crooked Kind of Perfect, I am reminded of a handful of clichés that would have meant nothing worthwhile to my second grade self at the point in time when my Lemon Lovenote horror was at its height. Now as an adult, at the end of the novel I have been reminded that: nothing is as bad as it seems, this too shall pass, and under every dark cloud there is a silver lining.
I will undoubtedly make A Crooked Kind of Perfect an early read-aloud in my classroom this fall because of the beautiful character teaching aspects of the novel. I will also share my recipe book nightmare story with my students. Then I will allow the novel to unfold and envelope the class as we discuss the concepts of silver linings.
Gina Ruffcorn has taught at West Harrison Elementary in Mondamin, Iowa for eleven years. She is currently teaching in a fifth grade self-contained classroom. She has been a great lover of books since kindergarten when Ms. Goetz read “Where the Wild Things Are”. She can be found on Twitter @gruffcorn13.