Zoe dreams of being a piano prodigy, of playing classical music at Carnegie Hall in a long, elegant dress. But her agoraphobic dad has trouble saying no to salesmen, so instead of a piano, what she gets is a Perfectone organ and a chance to perform Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” at the Perfectone Perform-A-Rama.
Oh, I loved this book so much! It could so easily have been a typical tale of a pre-teen dream deferred: the organ teaches her to stick with things, makes her family closer, and helps her make new friends, blah blah blah. But the devil — or in this case, the joy — is in the details: her dad, who takes endless correspondence courses in things like “Rolling in Dough: Earn a Dolla’ Baking Challah,” freezes if he has to talk to anyone but the family and the mailman, and gets lost every time he leaves the house. Her hyper-organized workaholic mom. Her new friend Wheeler, who just starts following her home every day and baking with her dad.
I loved the parents, in particular. Two-dimensional parents are a huge YA/kidlit pet peeve of mine, and Zoe’s are anything but. Dad is clearly mentally ill, but he’s just as clearly a supportive, nurturing father who is loved by his family. Mom is the “sane” one, but she has plenty of her own issues. In an ordinary book, these would be crappy, neglectful parents — here, they have problems and wonderful qualities, like everyone.
And of course, Zoe herself cracked me up. Here she is in her pre-organ piano lesson, using Lester Rennet’s Revolutionary Method (a keyboard printed on cardboard):
Mr. Rennet pointed at me. “You can practice in the school lunchroom!”
Had Lester Rennet ever seen a school lunchroom? Did he understand that the lunchroom is a jungle, where sixth-grade beasts stalk the weak and the dorky? Unfolding a revolutionary paper keyboard would be like picking a scab in a pool of sharks — the scent of blood would cause a frenzy.
Zoe is younger than most YA protagonists (5th grade), but her honest, hilarious voice will also appeal to middle school kids (and, um, thirty-year-old librarians).