by Linda Urban
Middle Grade Contemporary
Release Date: September 2007
Synopsis (from the Book Depository):
Ten-year-old Zoe Elias dreams of playing a baby grand piano at Carnegie Hall. But when Dad ventures to the music store and ends up with a wheezy organ instead of a piano, Zoe’s dreams hit a sour note. Learning the organ versions of old TV theme songs just isn’t the same as mastering Beethoven on the piano.
And the organ isn’t the only part of Zoe’s life that’s off-kilter, what with Mum constantly at work, Dad afraid to leave the house, and that odd boy, Wheeler Diggs, following her home from school every day. Yet when Zoe enters the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition, she finds that life is full of surprises – and that perfection may be even better when it’s just a little off centre.
Zoe is a 10-year-old girl who dreams of one day playing the piano at Carnegie Hall… but when her father comes home with a strange organ instead of a baby grand, Zoe’s dreams fall flat.
But rather than indulge their daughter and take it back, they make a deal with her to pay for lessons. She may be learning organ versions of old TV hits, but it’s still something! Meanwhile, her mother is a workaholic and never at home, and her father has severe agoraphobia and is terrified to leave the house (and spends his time at home getting diplomas from all those strange study-at-home courses you see advertised in magazines and on TV).
So, things are far from perfect. But what I love, love, love about this novel is — even as strange as the characters seem — the parents are real, make logical choices, and their daughter is a good kid who has clearly been raised right. Instead of taking the organ back, or Zoe raising a tantrum about it, they find a solution as a family. Zoe’s parents also remind her that she wanted lessons and needs to practice because of it, and Zoe recognizes her parents’ authority, even when she doesn’t want to do what they say.
In other words, we have a real family here that clearly loves each other. The parents aren’t perfect, but they’re trying, and how often do we see that in children’s books these days? I also thought the idea of an agoraphobic parent was highly unique, as I’ve never seen that concept brought into a novel before. In fact, Zoe’s father was one of the best (ie. unique, funny, and real) characters I’ve ever met in a novel… he’s one of those characters that will pop into your head and make you smile long after you’ve finished the book.
And even better? The voice is perfect. I felt like I was reading something in a 10-year-old’s voice, and not once did it seem to venture into ‘older’ territory. Very well done.
I picked this book up on a whim at a Scholastic warehouse sale (I think it was $3), and didn’t know what to expect. After reading it, I think this may be one of my favorite children’s books, not just of 2010, but ever. I wrote an email to the author to thank her for such a unique and wonderful story, and I hope to buy more copies to give away to my friends’ children once they’re a bit older. I hope to see more from this author in the future!
Linda Urban has a lovely (& lengthy!) bio on her website, which I encourage you to head over and read! The gist of it is: Linda wrote a lot, then kept writing, and wrote some more. Despite many rejections, eventually someone thought they’d like to publish one of her books. She said “yes, please do”, so they did!