The Lucy Variations is a coming of age story about a 16-year-old music prodigy who, eight months earlier, gave up playing the piano. The Lucy Variations is about Lucy's (often strained) relationships with her family, her adjustment to attending school, and her attempts to figure out (inspired by her brother's new music teacher) whether or music still has a place in her life. In short, she is figuring out who she is and who she wants to be. Whether readers themselves are interested in music or not has little to do with whether or not The Lucy Variations will have relevance for them. Figuring out what you love and how you're going to do it should resonate with all teens (and adults, for that matter).
Sara Zarr is phenomenal at creating three-dimensional characters. Lucy is talented and imperfect. As a reader, I sympathized with the things she lost out on while practicing and performing throughout her entire childhood. And I envied her the escape the music could provide. I also worried about her constantly, as though she was real. I was on edge for much of the book, because Lucy experiences friendships with / crushes on two different adult men. I kept wanting to tell her, "Stay back! Be careful."
The other characters are fully realized, too, particularly Lucy's best friend and Lucy's grandfather. Here's a window into Lucy's wealthy, music-obsessed, Type A family:
"Generally, Lucy didn't mind. It would be nice, though, once in a while, to be the kind of family that on a crap day like this would order a pizza and eat it in the kitchen. Maybe even talk about the fact that it was kinda sad and awful that someone who mattered to them had died in their house that afternoon." (Chapter 2)
Even Lucy's Grandma, who died 8 months earlier, is rendered through by Lucy's reminiscing. Like this:
"It reminded Lucy of Grandma Beck and how she always touched whoever she was talking to. Lightly, and with a calmness. Not clutching or intense. Lucy missed that." (Chapter 6)
Zarr's prose is simply lovely. Like these quotes, both from Chapter 9:
"To the right the Pacific sparkled deep blue, and the midday light cut depth and shadow into the crags of the bluff. Mesmerizingly. Gorgeously."
"The world was full of beauty. She wanted to grab hold of it and take it all down into her bones. Yet it always seemed beyond her grasp. Sometimes only be a little, like now. The thinnest membrane."
But The Lucy Variations is filled with down-to-earth details, too. Being late for school. Craving caffeine. The tedium of reading about the Middle Ages. What it's like to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Lucy Variations is about figuring out who you are (as distinct from your family) and what you love. It's beautifully written, with complex characters and realistic interactions. While the world of competitive piano playing may not be familiar to most readers, nor the trappings of Lucy's well-off family, The Lucy Variations at its heart explores universal truths. It also offers some nice parent/child opportunities for discussion, I think. Recommended for readers 12 and up, particularly girls.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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