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Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
May Contain Spoilers
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.
I love books set in highly competitive settings, and musical competitions are a favorite. Lucy’s competitive days are over, though. At the start of The Lucy Variations, she’s been in retirement for eight months. Eight months since she quit, since she walked out of a concert hall in Prague. She has been lost to herself for all of this time; longer, actually, because she lost her love for music and for her piano well before then. Her journey to find herself is not without mistakes and heartbreak, but when she does find herself again, will she have the courage to stand up to her family and take herself back?
After destructing in Prague, Lucy is happy with her new, stress free life. That’s what she keeps telling herself, anyway. After her grandmother’s death, nothing mattered anymore; not her music, not her family, not her schoolwork. Walking off the stage in Prague was intended as a protest to her grandfather, a message that she didn’t appreciate how he had made the decision that she would be competing instead of with her dying grandmother. Betrayed, Lucy still hasn’t forgiven her family for lying to her, and she hasn’t forgiven herself for not standing up to her grandfather. When she walked off the stage, he took her protest to be permanent. He called her a quitter, and told her her career was over. Now, the attention is on her talented younger brother, also a gifted pianist. Now, without the pressure of competition and practice, Lucy can be a teenager. She can have crushes and make friends and be a normal kid. Only, truthfully, she will never be a normal kid because she misses being someone, though she can’t even admit that to herself.
Lucy is a compelling character. She’s confused and angry. She can’t get past that day in Prague, when she gave everything up, only she didn’t realize at the time that her actions would last forever. She never thought that her grandfather, a harsh taskmaster, would be so uncompromising, and that he would deny her the chance to apologize and get back on with her piano practice. Instead, he dumped her faster than a garbage truck emptying a load at the local landfill. Lucy has no one to stand up for her against her grandfather, and as the months go by, she is more and more resentful of how she has been judged and left wanting.
When her brother, Gus, needs a new piano instructor, Will and his beautiful wife enter their lives. Will is so alive and so passionate about music. He makes Lucy remember all of the things she loved about it. He makes her want to try new things and play just for herself. As she gets to know him better and work through her issues with her family, Lucy develops a monumental crush on Will. This is the part of the story that I liked the least. Lucy jumps from an inappropriate crush on her English teacher to a crush on Will, but none of the moral dilemmas were adequately explored. There are no consequences explored, no significant examination of how their friendship is hurting Will’s wife. I was very disappointed with this aspect of the story.
Overall, I did enjoy The Lucy Variations. It’s an engaging story about a girl longing to find herself again, and to reestablish her voice in her demanding, controlling family.
Review copy provided by publisher