The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (website | twitter)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: teen proteges, young pianists, parental pressure, older crushes
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: After completely abandoning piano and not playing for eight months, Lucy begins pondering if she wants to play again and how her family would accept her decision (especially since she doesn’t want to be pushed into the professional circuit again.) It doesn’t hurt that her little brother’s new piano teacher is encouraging her to play.
Eight months ago, Lucy walked away from her future career as a concert pianist.
She hasn’t touched a piano since the day she walked off the stage in Prague. Her decision has caused tons of family strife; there’s so much tension between she and her grandfather now and all the focus has been placed on her 10-year-old brother, Gus, and his future career. Her parents refuse to acknowledge too much pressure was put on Lucy and her successes. Lucy fears that Gus will soon hate playing, too, because of all the rigorous training and must-win attitude he must face adapt.
After the sudden death of Gus’ old piano teacher, young, unconventional Will replaces her. In addition to making waves by changing Gus’s training schedule, Will also begins to question Lucy about her leave from playing. Does she still want to play? Does she ever play for fun?
Eventually Lucy begins to form answers to those questions. She’s not sure how to deal with the answers (or how her family would respond to what she wants to do).
Long gone are the days of Lucy’s private tutors and jet setting around the world to perform; she’s back to a “normal” schedule at San Francisco’s second best private school. Her best friends, Carson and Reyna, listen to their fair share of Lucy’s dramatic family stories, while encouraging her to stay out of trouble. You see, Lucy was forced to mature so quickly that she tends to gravitate toward crushing on older men. (Reyna’s not so much a fan of this because her parents are in the middle of a gruesome divorce thanks to her dad’s scandalous affairs with pretty, younger women.)
A lot can happen when you form an unorthodox relationship with your little brother’s piano teacher.
As you guys probably are aware by now, Sara Zarr is one of my favorite authors in the whole wide world. The Lucy Variations is another strong representation of her amazing talent. There were rich family dynamics — a grandfather who is extremely wealthy but continues to live in the family mansion with Lucy’s family, parents that orbit around their children’s careers and fear speaking against Grandpa’s demands, an adorable, loveable younger brother that you will want to pull into a big bear hug, and Martin, their amazing chef/butler that has seen Lucy grow up and always offers insightful advice.
And then there’s what I felt was most interesting, especially as I think about what kind of parent I want to be: the immense pressure this family put on their children to excel and have the rest of their lives perfectly planned out. I know a lot of parents who push their kids into just about every sport or have them practicing with coaches one-on-one so their kids can be The Best. Realistically, the chance to have an athletic professional career (or a musical one) is microscopic. Lucy’s childhood was completely stripped away from her.
This led to her making some questionable decisions and crushing on some guys that really left me feeling a bit squirmy at times. (Though, yes, I definitely remember thinking about what would happen if I ever met Justin Timberlake and how our age difference wouldn’t matter. Cause, um, you know — that would be the only questionable difference between us, right?) Lucy’s very real but very flawed — she loves her younger brother and wants to protect him, but does some pretty selfish things that are understandable though she has no foresight to see how they’ll (negatively) impact the future.
While How to Save a Life still clings to the gold as my favorite Sara Zarr book, The Lucy Variations comes in a very close second place. Sara’s writing is effortless; I could swim in her words forever and ever. And hopefully you guys will want to, too, if I continue singing her praises.