8.07.2013

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (YA)

Maybe it was because I myself took 14 years of piano lessons (from the time I was 4 until my senior year of high school including dozens of competitions). Maybe it was the divorce subplot. Maybe it was the inappropriate crush on an older guy. Whatever the reason, my 16-year-old self (from just a tad more than 16 years ago) totally connected with this book in a way that made my stomach as steely as if I was re-reading one of my high school journals.

Don't get me wrong, I was nowhere near as an accomplished pianist as Sara Zarr's Lucy in THE LUCY VARIATIONS (Little Brown, May 2013) -- she's spectacularly talented. In classical circles, Lucy is considered a wonder, winning competitions left and right, until she suddenly decides to quit. Like, right before she's supposed to walk on stage at the prestigious Prague competition.

This doesn't go over very well with her control-freak grandfather, who has orchestrated her career from the beginning. But Lucy has a good reason for walking away -- she's tired of playing only for other people, tired of putting the piano before life itself.

Now she's learning to live in the shadow of her little brother Gustav, her grandfather's next-in-line for prodigious greatness. But when Gustav's teacher dies in the middle of a lesson (what a first chapter, btw), the new teacher, Will, might be just what Lucy needs to rediscover her love of music ... and to discover who she really is in the process.

You don't have to be a classical music fan to love THE LUCY VARIATIONS but, if you aren't, listening to the mentioned pieces as your accompanying playlist just might convert you. At least create a Vivaldi station on Pandora as a reading soundtrack. Seriously, kids, there's a reason this music has been around for so many years. I promise you, 100 years from now, Beethovan will still be around. JayZ? The Biebs? I doubt it. (I apologize if I offend.)

But I digress.

Zarr sketches the 16-year-old Lucy with sure, solid strokes -- her struggle to fit in at high school after being home schooled for so many years, to be a good friend after being raised in a world that revolved around her, and to allow herself to figure out how she truly feels about music, and whether that emotion can co-exist with how she feels about the beauty of the world away from the keyboard.

The subplots around friend Reyna's father's infidelity and the married Will's borderline-oogie attraction to Lucy (or is it to her talent?) round out the story and keep it rolling along. There are moments of gentle grace in these pages (a conversation between Lucy and the family's chef Martin, or her French father's drunken Thanksgiving confession stand out).

For me, THE LUCY VARIATIONS stirred up nostalgia and jealousy (I always wanted to be that good). This is a special book. Although I doubt it was the intention, I can see it as one of those books that expands viewpoints and changes minds -- in this case, convincing teens that liking Vivaldi and Brahams can be cool, too.

For 7th grade and up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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