The Lucy Variations
Piano used to be Lucy's entire life. But now she must figure out what she loves --- and how music fits in --- in order to know how to live the rest of her life.
Sixteen-year-old Lucy used to play the piano. And I don't mean she used to practice an hour a day and play in her teacher's annual recital. Lucy was the real deal, traveling the world, winning competitions, performing concertos with symphony orchestras and making recordings. Until one day, several months ago, when Lucy just stood up from the piano bench at the most important competition of her life, walked out of the concert hall and never looked back.
"In THE LUCY VARIATIONS, Sara Zarr gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of a truly gifted, truly dedicated young musician."
That is, until now. Now that her younger brother Gus, a 10-year-old who also seems to have a promising future as a concert pianist, has found a new teacher. Will is young, creative, innovative --- and it doesn't hurt that he's handsome, too. He, more than anything or anyone over the last several months, makes Lucy miss her former life --- or at least the part of it that was just about the music, not about impressing the public or living up to her grandfather's expectations and ambitions.
With Will's help, Lucy starts to explore her feelings about music in general and about making music in particular. She reveals exactly what it was that prompted her to quit in such a spectacular fashion, and she starts to imagine a possible future life that could still have music at its center without all the pressure that made her miserable before. But how will her friends at school feel? After all, Lucy has only been back in the classroom for less than a year, after years of being tutored while she was on the road performing. And how will her family feel? Will her grandfather be able to forgive her both for walking away from the piano and for wanting to find her way back? And what about Gus? How will he feel about his older sister potentially stealing both his teacher and the limelight?
In THE LUCY VARIATIONS, Sara Zarr gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of a truly gifted, truly dedicated young musician. She also effectively illustrates the kinds of tradeoffs that a young musician like Lucy must be willing to make to succeed --- while also questioning, like Lucy herself, the definition of "success" in this exclusive world. Lucy undergoes a tremendous amount of growth and development over the course of the novel, and Zarr doesn't pull any punches in her portrayal of her heroine --- Lucy is, frankly, imperfect, and coming to terms with her own imperfections is part of Lucy's maturation over the course of the novel. Zarr also raises interesting questions about the nature of mentorship --- Will is undoubtedly a talented teacher, but Zarr also explores what happens when the mentor-mentee relationship possesses an undercurrent of attraction. But what's most compelling about the novel is Zarr's portrayal of a talented young woman trying hard to balance her gift with her desire for a normal life --- even if she's not quite sure what that looks like.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 20, 2013